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Member of the European Commission responsible for Health and Consumer Policy
"Effective HIV testing is an important step in fighting the epidemic"
World Aids Day Seminar – Organised by the ECDC
European Parliament, Brussels, Wednesday 1 December 2010, 13.00 – 14.30hrs
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today is World AIDS Day.
Today is a reminder of the devastation that this disease has caused – and continues to cause – across the world.
Today is the occasion to pay tribute to all those living with HIV AIDS; and to their courage and determination to fight for their lives.
Today is also the moment to build up momentum; and review our commitment to fight this terrible disease.
In 2009 alone 1.8 million people died of AIDS worldwide; and 2.6 million people got infected.
HIV represents great suffering for patients, and their close ones, and a heavy social and economic burden for society.
When I went to the World Aids Conference in Vienna earlier this year, I was mortified by what I learned about the difficulties that people infected with the virus face every day.
In the European Union alone, over 25 thousand EU citizens get infected with HIV every year.
Most of them are from vulnerable and marginalised groups; and need support in the form of properly integrated health and social services.
Our efforts must therefore target those who are most at risk of getting infected.
Nearly 30 years after the discovery of the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), the virus is still spreading.
This Friday, I will meet briefly one of the co-discoverers of the virus – Professor Barré-Sinoussi.
I look forward to this opportunity to hear about the challenge of developing vaccines and the drive for better drugs.
With 30 years experience behind us, you may wonder why we are still discussing a guidance paper on HIV testing.
The key point here is that 30% of people infected with HIV in Europe – nearly one in three – are unaware of their condition.
And there are regions and groups where this proportion is even higher. Such a situation obviously exacerbates the spread of the virus.
Late diagnosis of HIV has severe consequences for the people infected, their partners and health systems.
HIV testing makes good public health sense:
This is why many European countries have established effective programmes and structures to deliver HIV testing and treatment, but there is still room for improvement.
In this context, the ECDC guidance on HIV testing is most welcome.
The ECDC is not starting from scratch here.
The guidance paper complements other such guidelines and addresses the specific situation, and the needs of the European Union.
The ECDC guidance shows the need for political commitment to materialise the necessary infrastructure and investment for testing; the need to normalise and reduce the stigma of testing.
It also stresses that testing needs to be properly followed up. And to be integrated in an overall national HIV/AIDS plan, as already in place in several Member States.
Testing systems need to be accepted and supported by all players, in particular the groups most at risk.
Civil Society groups have a key role to play here in identifying and reaching out to vulnerable groups.
Good social integration of marginalised groups is essential to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS; which may hamper people from taking the test in the first place.
Young people in particular need clear information, guidance and knowledge on HIV. They need support to understand that they are responsible for their acts – and must therefore act in a responsible manner.
Overall, clear communication on the benefits of timely testing and care is instrumental in creating a positive perception of HIV testing.
Offering the possibility of anonymous testing is often very useful, especially where the cultural and social environment is restrictive.
Testing is a first step to fight the virus.
This is why the Commission Communication on combating HIV/AIDS of course recommends testing; and also improving HIV prevention; access to services and treatment as well as improving the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS - in the EU and its neighbouring countries.
Let me take this opportunity to stress that I fully appreciate Member States' support and engagement in pursuing the goals set out in the Communication.
Our action does not stop here. The Commission takes a holistic approach to HIV/AIDS and addresses it through a wide range of its policies - not only health, but also research, youth, development and international relations.
Development aid in particular is essential to carry out prevention and treatment programs in developing countries. There is a long way to go here if we are to meet the Millennium Development Goals of granting universal access to prevention, treatment and care by 2015.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Effective HIV testing along the lines recommended in the ECDC guidance is an important step in fighting the epidemic.
I would urge all Member States to ensure they have a comprehensive system for testing and for its follow-up.
30 years after discovering the virus, we still have a major battle on our hands. And the virus is still winning.
We need to press forward together, with conviction and determination, to achieve our goals to reduce and eradicate this devastating disease.