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Commissioner Responsible for Health
Speech at Conference: HIV in Europe 2007
I wish to thank the organisers for holding this important conference here in Brussels in the run-up to World AIDS Day 2007.
I am very pleased to see so many opinion leaders in the field gathered here. I am sure that your discussions and conclusions will contribute to keeping HIV/AIDS where it belongs – at the top of our policy agenda.
Taking up HIV treatment and testing is particularly important today. Both issues have a key European dimension, and both require our full attention.
As we know, there is still much to be done to overcome and to control the burden of HIV/AIDS in many European countries.
Some countries have established well conceived programmes and structures to deliver functioning testing and treatment systems, but simply having treatment and testing services in place may not be enough.
We will only be effective in testing and treatment if the overall policy context is right: Keeping up the political commitment definitely is the key priority, and addressing this key challenge is a responsibility across society.
We have to build partnerships and join our efforts if we want to be successful.
It becomes more and more obvious that we need to coordinate our priorities and to make the best use of our limited resources. There are new health threats that we prepare to face, but still we shouldn't neglect the existing ones.
Moreover, we need to strengthen valuable partnerships such as those that have been established with civil society organisations, and international organisations working in the field.
When discussing the complex issue of treatment and care of HIV, I nevertheless do wish to stress that we should not neglect other major priorities such as awareness raising, prevention, addressing stigma and discrimination. The whole has to become a comprehensive package to be effective and should be mainstreamed in Member States, neighbourhood countries, and beyond.
As we are all aware, the promotion of voluntary testing represents a crucial step towards better control of the spread of HIV.
By the same token, it is necessary to strengthen the notion of personal responsibility when it comes to the central issue of sexuality: people should be supported to act responsibly. Not being aware of one's own HIV status bears a high risk for others, as is again underlined by recent data. We should not forget that this is particularly relevant for high risk groups but not just for those.
It follows, of course, that in order to pursue the objective of responsible sexuality, young people need positive guidance and empowerment.
Improved knowledge, awareness and information are essential tools that young people must acquire. It is our responsibility to provide them all the necessary information and guidance before they can feel fully responsible for their own sexuality.
HIV tests should, moreover, be provided free of charge, and must consequently include a proper follow-up in terms of guidance, support, treatment and care. This is a basic responsibility of all societies across Europe.
The needs of vulnerable groups and groups at risk need particular attention. This represents an area in which we do largely depend on the support of civil society groups and organisations.
For the patient, obviously, getting tested early on means gaining access to HIV-specific care, treatment and support when medically justified and needed, but also means to prevent further: not to infect others.
Where treatment is concerned, Member States must ensure that follow-ups of testing results are made available, and that health care services do not abandon patients. To guarantee this, commonly agreed guidelines should be implemented in all Member States.
When talking about treatment we have to think also about costs, as antiretrovirals (ARVs) are very specialised and cost-intensive compounds.
In addition, effort has to be made to ensure that people affected by HIV/AIDS are covered by the health insurance system, in order to have access to early and efficient treatment.
It should be underlined that the approach to treatment we much promote and sustain should, in addition to providing medicines, also emphasise social and psychological support.
Social integration will lead to a decrease of stigmatisation and discrimination, which are important elements to be considered.
It gives me great satisfaction that HIV/AIDS is once gradually again been placed high up on the political agenda. We have had many high-level meetings to discuss extremely important issues, ranging from access to medicines to migration, on how to best fight HIV/AIDS.
On the political side, the German presidency and the follow-up with the Portuguese presidency not only proved to be a smooth process, but also one with important results. Let's continue along that path.
Thank you all for your work. We are counting on you. This is an indispensable part of our efforts.
I wish to emphasise once more the point that all parties involved in the struggle against the HIV/AIDS epidemic must ensure proper follow-up and implementation of the Dublin, Vilnius and Bremen declarations. This includes a thorough analysis of where we are. But this is not just an academic discussion; what is actually needed is action and political commitment, and mostly, what we really need is results.
The Commission is committed to doing its part, and strives to support the co-operation and the initiatives among all stakeholders, towards a common goal.
You certainly have my assurance that we will do our best to provide an adequate political platform to combat HIV/AIDS in Europe: we know what we need to do and we will intensify our efforts towards achieving the goals laid down.