For information only - not an official document

10 March 2010

HIV/AIDS Epidemics in Eastern Europe
under the Spotlight at Vienna AIDS Conference

VIENNA, 10 March (UN Information Service) - The rapidly growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in Eastern Europe fuelled primarily by unsafe injecting drug use are topics under the spotlight at the XVIII International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2010, to be held in Vienna in July. The United Nations, through the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is supporting the conference from 18-23 July 2010 which is organized by the non-governmental organization the International AIDS Society.

The conference will also examine worldwide progress towards the 2010 deadline set by world leaders in the Millennium Development Goals for universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS and HIV prevention.

Around 25,000 people working in the field of HIV, including policy makers, legislators, researchers, people living with HIV and others committed to ending the pandemic will come to Vienna for AIDS 2010 which has the theme Rights Here, Right Now, emphasizing the central importance of human rights in responding to HIV.

HIV and injecting drug users

By holding the conference in Vienna the organizers will highlight the situation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, regions experiencing fast growing epidemics largely through unsafe injecting drug use. An estimated 1.5 million people are living with HIV in these regions. Sharing needles and injection equipment is thought to be three times more likely to transmit HIV than sexual intercourse.

"To break the trajectory of the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe, we must stop new infections among injecting drug users and their partners," said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. "People using drugs have a right to access the best possible options for prevention, care and treatment."

Yet, as the results published in The Lancet last week show, injecting drug users often have little or no access to evidence-informed comprehensive HIV services. Globally, only 2 needles and syringes per injecting drug user are distributed per month, only 8 per cent of injecting drug users receive opioid substitution therapy, and only 4 per cent of HIV positive injecting drug users receive antiretroviral therapy (Mathers et al, 2010).

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the lead agency within the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for injecting drug users and in prison settings. It works in 55 priority countries in Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, South and South East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, helping countries to provide drug users, prisoners and people vulnerable to human trafficking with comprehensive evidence-informed HIV services.

"We can and must reverse the HIV epidemic, first of all by preventing the spread of drug use, and then by providing treatment to addicts. In this comprehensive programme, HIV-targeted measures include providing clean injecting equipment, opioid substitution, and antiretroviral therapy," said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.

HIV/AIDS and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

Tackling HIV/AIDS, part of the sixth Millennium Development Goal, sets the specific target of 2010 to achieve universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it and HIV prevention and by 2015 to have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Statistics from 2007 show that an estimated 33.2 million people were living with HIV around the world but the number of people newly infected with HIV, after peaking in 1996, had declined to 2.7 million by 2007. However infection rates are continuing to rise in some parts of the world, especially Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Here, HIV prevalence has almost doubled since 2001.

As the coverage of antiretroviral treatment in poorer countries has increased so there has been a decline in the number of AIDS deaths, to 2 million in 2007. So while 3 million people in the developing regions were receiving antiretroviral drugs by December 2007, that is still only 69 per cent of those who needed it. And for every person who started antiretroviral treatment in 2007, three new people were infected with HIV. Globally women have equal or greater access to antiretroviral drugs than men, partly through prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

Pushing forward to achieve the Millennium Development Goals is one of the priorities for the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon this year. "The MDGs are too big to fail," the Secretary-General said. "We are ready to act, ready to deliver, and ready to make 2010 a year of results for people." A summit will be held in New York in September to mobilize global action on the MDGs.

The AIDS 2010 conference will also bring benefits to people and organizations in Austria working in the field of HIV/AIDS according to AIDS 2010 Local Co-Chair, Dr. Brigitte Schmied, President of the Austrian AIDS Society: "Whether it be through the identification of priority needs and the way to meet them; understanding and tackling current limitations to universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support; or a renewed sense of purpose and consolidation of efforts to apply interventions based on evidence rather than ideology."

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For further information, contact:

Anne Thomas
Information Officer, UNIS Vienna
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060-5588
Mobile: (+43) 699 1459 5588

For further information about the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010) contact:

Christian Strohmann
Communications Coordinator, Local AIDS 2010 Secretariat
Telephone: (+43-1) 4000-76782
Mobile: (+43) 699 18173002

For further information about UNODC contact:

Walter Kemp
Spokesman and Speechwriter, UNODC
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060 5629
Mobile: (+43) 699 1459 5629

Facts about Drug Use and the Spread of HIV