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Europe’s Economic Growth Threatened by AIDS
“HIV/AIDS is a growing challenge for the entire continent of Europe, from Dublin to Moscow,” Kalman Mizsei, Regional Director for Europe and the CIS of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), warned European leaders gathered here to discuss a regional response to the epidemic.
Speaking to government officials and civil society organizers gathered in Dublin for the “Breaking the Barriers: Partnership to Fight HIV/AIDS in Europe and Central Asia” conference convened by the EU Irish Presidency, Mr Mizsei called on the European Union to use its political clout to put more resources into the fight against AIDS.
Infections increased 50 times in less than 10 years
The report, released last week in Moscow, notes that curbing the disease requires public awareness and information, de-stigmatization, inclusion of vulnerable groups in policy decision-making and, above all, strong and decisive political leadership. The report was co-authored by experts from UNDP, UNAIDS, WHO and the World Bank. It offers detailed HIV/AIDS profiles for the countries of the region, describes vulnerable groups and the behaviours that put them at risk of infection, and discusses why governance and human rights must be considered central elements in the battle against the epidemic.
“We need to rebrand AIDS as a societal development issue, not only a disease of injecting drug users,” said Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS.
Region’s youth—most affected by the epidemic
“This region cannot afford to see its young workers and future leaders infected and unable to contribute to society before they reach maturity” said Mr Mizsei. “The success of the economic and social transition depends on this younger generation.”
HIV/AIDS threatens economic growth
Increased health expenditures associated with treating people living with AIDS could amount to one to three percentage points of annual GDP. These figures represent particular challenges, especially for the poorest countries in the region.
The above-average prevalence of HIV in the region’s over-crowded penal institutions—which the report calls ‘real HIV incubators’—is a particular cause for concern.
The risk of not responding decisively
“It is high time to dramatically expand access to AIDS treatment and adopt new initiatives to lower the costs of antiretroviral therapy,” says Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Treatment, care and prevention must go together and be scaled up to really fight the epidemic.”
A number of countries in Central and South-Eastern Europe, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have recorded important successes in halting or reversing the spread of the epidemic. They have been able to leverage progress in building vibrant democracies into effective responses to HIV/AIDS. At the same time, a relatively successful transition outcome does not in itself guarantee an effective response, as is apparent in the case of Estonia, which combines one of the region’s most successful transitions with some of its highest HIV rates.
Only twelve years ago South Africa too saw less than 1% of its adult population infected. Now that rate is twenty times higher. It is already too late to speak of avoiding a crisis in Eastern Europe and the CIS. Nevertheless, there is still much that governments and civil societies can do to reduce the social, demographic and economic consequences of HIV/AIDS and even reverse the epidemic.
"Involvement of the European Union in the battle against HIV/AIDS is a powerful push for the region to mobilize all necessary resources in curbing the disease,” Mizsei said.
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