Breaking the growing spiral of HIV and AIDS in Europe and Central Asia

By Anitta Underlin, Director, Europe Zone

Today, Red Cross Red Crescent Societies and countries worldwide mark World AIDS Day, using the theme Getting to Zero, which is the slogan of the Global AIDS Campaign for 2011-2015. We join the call for zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.

As we enter the fourth decade in the shadow of AIDS, we see that the world has succeeded in arresting and started to reverse the spread of HIV, with the number of annual new infections falling by 21 per cent since 1997.

Current figures show that significant progress has been made worldwide towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, and experience proves that an adequate investment in the response to AIDS does contribute to a marked reduction in stigma and discrimination and improves access to needed services and information. This decreases their exposure to risk, and delivers the treatment that can extend and improve the quality of life for those who are living with HIV.

But whereas the global perspective looks encouraging, regional figures show worrying trends. According to UNAIDS data for 2011, Eastern Europe and Central Asia is one of the few regions where the number of AIDS-related deaths, and co-infections with tuberculosis, continues to increase, and where, over the last ten years, the number of people living with HIV has more than tripled, reaching an estimated 1.5 million people in 2010 compared with 410,000 in 2001.

Infections remain concentrated mainly among people who inject drugs and their sexual partners. These groups suffer most from stigma and discrimination, which pushes them further to the margins of society. The result is a spiral where those who need the most assistance shift further away from information on prevention, treatment and care.

What are the expectations for the Europe Zone in the next three years? The question is: how quickly and how effectively can Red Cross Red Crescent societies buck the current trends and progress towards Zero?

The spiral of the HIV epidemic will be only be broken if we advocate for the removal of legal and cultural roadblocks; protect drug users from HIV infection, promote harm reduction, fight against stigma shown to the most vulnerable groups and to those with HIV, invest in young leaders, and guarantee universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support to those who living with HIV and AIDS.

Universal access - one of the core goals of the campaign - does not only mean access to treatment for all those living with HIV and AIDS, but there is also an active responsibility for the Red Cross Red Crescent to encourage and assist people to stick with their treatment and to facilitate, and promote, good care and support.

The Red Cross Red Crescent movement must bring support and assistance to everyone, in peace and conflict, and be a beacon of impartiality for all those in need.

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