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EU urged to step up support to Eastern European HIV response

Tuesday, 6 August, 2013

The European Union (EU) is under pressure to review the level of support it provides to neighbouring Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union region to respond to the HIV and AIDS epidemic. The majority of EU funding for HIV prevention and treatment is earmarked for developing nations, whilst middle-income countries, such as those in the  Eastern Europe, Russia and the Central Asia region have seen a huge rise in new infections over the last decade. Although the number of people living with HIV remains relatively low compared with other regions, the proportion of people dying of AIDS-related causes is high. Key players in the international response to HIV and AIDS, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis (TB), are calling upon the EU to reconsider their plan of action against the three diseases, to include Eastern Europe, Russia and the Central Asia.

Between 2001 and 2011, the Ukraine and Belarus saw an increase in the number of AIDS-related deaths of 144 percent and 1,100 percent, respectively. This trend runs counter to many other regions, such as Southern Africa, where AIDS-related deaths decreased during this period. The HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe is primarily fuelled by injecting drug use, with the groups most vulnerable to HIV being injecting drug users, men who have sex with men and sex workers.  Scale-up of programmes targeting these key populations is needed, but political and religious barriers and high levels of stigma against these groups, make them hard to reach and funding difficult to obtain.

The Global Fund has urged the EU to consider the urgent need to finance responses to the epidemic in middle-income countries where HIV incidence is increasing and prioritise where help is needed the most, as opposed focusing on national poverty levels.