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European Union activities relating to HIV/AIDS

European Commission - MEMO/04/280   30/11/2004

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MEMO/04/280

Brussels, 30 November 2004

European Union activities relating to HIV/AIDS

To mark World AIDS day on 1 December, this background note summarises legislative actions and programmes financed by the European Union to increase understanding and awareness of HIV/AIDS issues.

Political leadership in the fight against AIDS in Europe:

Fighting the resurgent epidemic on the European continent requires governments to make HIV/AIDS a key priority. The EU is determined to provide political leadership for a coordinated continent-wide effort against the disease. In September this year the Commission and the government of Lithuania co-hosted a conference of health ministers, AIDS experts and civil society representatives from across the EU and its neighbours to kick start this effort. The Vilnius conference produced commitments for action by national governments and endorsed a road-map for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Europe and its neighbourhood (see: IP/04/1111).

Political leadership in the fight against AIDS in Europe

Fighting the resurgent epidemic on the European continent requires governments to make HIV/AIDS a key priority. The EU is determined to provide political leadership for a coordinated continent-wide effort against the disease. In September this year the Commission and the government of Lithuania co-hosted a conference of health ministers, AIDS experts and civil society representatives from across the EU and its neighbours to kick start this effort. The Vilnius conference produced commitments for action by national governments and endorsed a road-map for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Europe and its neighbourhood (see: IP/04/1111).

Fighting HIV/AIDS in the European Union

The EU has a key role to play in delivering the Europe-wide strategy against HIV/AIDS agreed at the Vilnius conference in September (see: IP/04/1111). The Commission is working with Member States and other partners to:

  • Raise public awareness and prevent people being infected with HIV
  • Ensure access to affordable anti-retrovirals for people living with HIV
  • Reinforcing the epidemiological surveillance of HIV/AIDS
  • Involve civil society groups in the strategy

An important focus of EU action is addressing the challenges faced by vulnerable groups, such as such as migrants, sex workers, prisoners and, in particular, young people. During 2004 the Commission has focused on best practice in HIV/AIDS prevention and sex education.

There is worrying evidence that many young people in Europe are either unaware of – or choose to ignore – health advice about safer sex. The EU and its partners have agreed the need for a continet wide information effort to remedy this. A coordinated package of national information campaigns will be developed in 2005.

Another significant step forward was the adoption of a Directive laying down EU-wide standards for the quality and safety of human blood and blood components.

Fighting HIV/AIDS in the developing world

Girls and women carry a heavier burden and are affected more often and at an earlier age by HIV/AIDS than men. The situation is particularly dismal in Sub-Saharian Africa, where almost 57% of the adult population infected by HIV/AIDS are women. Higher rates of poverty among women, the lack of education leading to lower literacy rates, a lack of access to effective prevention tools, the pervasive effects of gender inequality, and sexual violence inside and outside marriage make women more susceptible to get infected. In addition to the immediate human suffering inflicted on women, and in light of poor access to basic services, the number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS grows day by day beyond the 15 million already affected.

The European response to this challenge is based on a “policy framework” adopted in October to confront three of the major communicable diseases – HIV/AIDS, malaria and Tuberculosis. This will be translated in concrete initiatives in those countries in an Action Plan to be presented in early 2005.

While making condoms available is still the most effective strategy to prevent transmission, the European Commission’s strategy includes promoting the development of microbicides (a vaginal gel preventing transmission) and investing in the development of an effective and affordable HIV/AIDS vaccine for developing countries as a potentially ground-breaking means to control the disease.

Furthermore, it is clear that education, and especially girls’ educations, is key. The EC supports primary education programmes in more than 30 developing countries, with an annual average contribution of €260 million. Teachers play a crucial role in strengthening the school system’s response to HIV/AIDS, but in many countries there is a sharp shortage of teachers due to the impact of HIV/AIDS.

Providing access to treatment for people infected is a prime objective. The EC is actively pursuing this in the WTO, through EC legislation on tiered pricing on pharmaceutical products, and through the promotion of local production. The EC is also the second largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, with €460.5 million committed for the period 2001-2006.

European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership

The EDCTP is a research programme for the development of new medical products, microbicides and vaccines to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis targeted at sub-Saharan Africa. It focuses on phase II/III clinical trials for the three poverty-related diseases and is tailored to the specific needs of developing countries.

The EDCTP was created by 15 European countries to establish a long term, sustainable and genuine partnership between European and developing countries. The European Union decided to support the EDCTP via Article 169 of the Treaty by allocating € 200 million from the 6th Research Framework Programme. The EDCTP target budget is € 600 million for the period 2003 - 2007.

Apart from the €200 million from the EU, €200 million will come from Member States' national activities, and further € 200 million still have to be found from industry, charity and private organisations. The EDCTP is not part of the general calls for proposals of the European Commission, instead it operates as a separate legal entity with its own guidelines, including calls for proposals and appropriate selection and evaluation procedures.

Research Framework Programme Projects

In the period from 1998 to 2002, under the Fifth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, the European Union has made substantial investments in a broad range of collaborative research activities related to HIV/AIDS. €28m has been allocated to vaccine research, €10m to drug discovery and research and €9m for research on health policy and heath systems. The European project partnerships undertaking this research have included worldwide partners as well.

The Sixth Research Framework Programme (2002-2006) is funding a number of projects in the field of HIV/AIDS research. These include research to develop a specific HIV microbicide for the prevention of sexual transmission/acquisition of HIV, and further research on vaccines. Ongoing research seeks to increase understanding of the immune mechanism.


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