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HIV Epidemic Stabilized, but Too Early to Be Complacent

A press conference dedicated to World AIDS Day was held at the National Press Center of Belarus today. It saw the participation of the UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus Antonius Broek and Deputy Minister of Health/Senior Sanitary Physician of Belarus Oleg Arnautov.

According to the latest UNAIDS report, to date it has been possible to either stabilize or significantly slow down the spread of HIV infection in at least 56 countries. Over the past 10 years, the number of new cases of HIV has declined by nearly 20%. The number of HIV associated deaths has also declined by almost 20% over the past 5 years, and the total number of people living with HIV has stabilized. Thus, it has been possible to stop the AIDS epidemic, and the world is beginning to reverse the spread of HIV.

At the same time, HIV infection remains to be a global challenge unprecedented in its magnitude. According to official data, about 33 million people worldwide live with HIV today. More than 17.5 million children have lost a parent or both parents due to AIDS. In Belarus, there are 11,562 registered cases of HIV at this time. Over 10 months of 2010, 872 new cases of HIV infection were identified. The rate of slowdown is 4.3% compared with last year. The overwhelming majority of HIV-positive people are young people from 15 to 29 years of age.

According to Mr. Oleg Arnautov, the problem of HIV and AIDS is acknowledged as one of the priority problems for Belarus. Recently, the proportion of HIV-positive youth in the 15 – 19 age group has tended to decline, from 3.2% in 2009 to 2% in 2010. Almost all the patients who need it are covered by ARV therapy: 250 people in 2008, and 2,400 people by late November 2010. The frequency of mother to child transmission of HIV has fallen by a factor of 1.6.

“The first cases of HIV were registered 30 years ago, and since then the virus has been taking the lives of about 2 million people every year,” says the UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus Antonius Broek. “World AIDS Day is an important reminder of the fact that there is still a lot to be done.”

The theme of World AIDS Day in 2009 – 2010 is “Universal Access and Human Rights”. The priority objective, as Mr. Broek pointed out, is to protect the populations vulnerable to HIV, and to guarantee rights of access to HIV prevention, treatment and care. That is why this year’s campaign against AIDS is held under the slogan “Light for Rights”. Within the framework of this initiative, various cities of the world host events, one of the mandatory features of which is to turn the light down and then to turn it back up. These events have been inspired by the project “Night without Light” undertaken by the Visual AIDS organization in 1990. During the press-conference in Minsk the light was also turned down and then turned back up, and Antonius Broek and Oleg Arnautov held a red ribbon together – the symbol of unity in fighting the HIV epidemic.

In his address, the UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative gave a high assessment of the partnership between government agencies, international and non-governmental organizations involved in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and pointed at the urgent need to undertake joint actions within the framework of the interagency HIV/AIDS information strategy that is being developed and introduced in Belarus using the efforts of government agencies, international, non-governmental and faith-based organizations.

During the press-conference, the action “I Have Taken an HIV Test” was announced which will take place on December 1 in Minsk. Staff of the Ministry of Healthcare and representatives of the rector’s office of Belarusian State Medical University will take part in the event and take an HIV test on a voluntary basis with a view to draw attention to the need to take care of one’s health and the health of one's relatives and friends.

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