Brussels, 25 November 2005
Young people across the European Union and neighbouring countries are among the main victims of a resurgence of the deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the run-up to World AIDS Day on 1 December, freshly released data from the EU-funded “Euro-HIV” network indicates that the number of people newly diagnosed with HIV is increasing steadily. In the 20 EU countries for which data was available for the last 4 years, the total number of reported new HIV diagnoses increased by 23%. The escalation has been largest in the United Kingdom, with a 69% rise. In 2004 just under 72 000 cases were reported in the whole WHO European Region. According to new UNAIDS estimates 2.3 million people are living with HIV and AIDS within the European region To help combat the rise of the epidemic in Europe and neighbouring countries, the Commission will shortly adopt a Communication detailing concrete steps for 2006-2009. These will address aspects such as the involvement of civil society, partnerships with industry, surveillance, prevention of new infections, drug dependence, education, counselling and testing, research, and initiatives for neighbouring countries. The European Commission is continuing to invest in research projects focussing on new drugs as well as microbicides and vaccines to prevent the spread of the virus.
“I am very concerned about the resurgence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, especially amongst young Europeans” said Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou. “We need to remind young people of the risks linked to the epidemic, and that it is still a very real and growing threat. Raising awareness will be one the main priorities of the forthcoming Commission Communication on combating HIV/AIDS, which will in particular foster dialogue and co-operation with civil society to help get the message across.”
“Major social challenges, such as the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst European youth, need cutting edge research. By working together at European level, we can be more effective and innovative, and make new ways to prevent the spread of the disease a reality much sooner” said Science and Research Commissioner, Janez Potočnik.
On the rise again
will take responsibility for the network. According to its data, injecting drugs is still the main source of transmission and contributes to an increasingly large share of new HIV infections. However, most of the infected are young and sexually active.
For the 20 EU countries with data available the number of newly reported HIV infections by the end of 2004 is almost 22 000 cases. In the EU HIV infection through heterosexual sex and among homo-and bisexual men is increasing.
EU steps to combat HIV/AIDS
Within its Public Health Programme, the EU has funded projects and established networks to link up public authorities, NGOs and stakeholders across the EU to foster dissemination of best practices and help vulnerable groups such as drug users, sex workers and inmates. Overall, EU funding schemes have allocated over €1.2 billion over the 2003-2006 period to the fight against HIV/AIDS together with malaria and tuberculosis. The EU has launched a series of initiates on prevention (including information campaigns and addressing the use of condoms), drug use, mother-to-child transmission, safety of blood and tissues, health care including access to affordable anti-retroviral treatment, advocacy, surveillance, research, the involvement of civil society, social inclusion, and work with neighbouring countries. The forthcoming Commission Communication on “combating HIV/AIDS within the European Union and in the neighbouring countries 2006-2009” will further elaborate on those aspect, address further issues and propose a detailed Action Plan to follow-up on recommendations.
The research activities to develop new drugs, vaccines and microbicides that can be used to prevent the spread of the disease fall into two categories: HIV clinical trials in humans, and industry-led projects. Researchers funded by the European Union are currently working with Chinese, Tanzanian and South African researchers on preparing clinical trials of possible vaccines. Within the EU, researchers are working on developing a combined HIV and measles vaccine, which can be delivered in childhood. An alternative approach being supported is the development of drugs that might have the added potential to act as a preventive product that kills the virus and prevents further infection.
Combating AIDS in Developing Countries
With a contribution of 2 billion EUR, the European Union is the main donor of
the UN’s Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and Malaria. This fund
was created to deliver quick and massive funding to developing countries to
scale up their programmes to combat the three diseases according to their own
priorities. In addition, the EC advocates the introduction of tiered pricing and
promotes a political dialogue for the drastic reduction in the price of drugs
including antiretrovirals. Affordable drugs are the main precondition for an
access to treatment for thousands of people in the developing world. On a global
scale, AIDS today is still a problem in particular of developing countries, with
sub-Saharan Africa being most affected.