65th Session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe

Speech given on the opening of the 65th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14–17 September 2015

Distinguished Chair and Delegates,

I am making this statement in my capacity as the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

I would like to thank the Regional Director for her report and commend her and the WHO Europe staff in Copenhagen and in country offices for steadfast commitment to having people in need in the region access prevention and treatment for HIV/AIDS, TB/MDR TB and viral hepatitis.

I could witness this commitment in the last few months as we deal with the acute risk of disruption of antiretroviral drugs in the non-government controlled areas of the Donbass in Eastern Ukraine; a part of Ukraine where patients are now facing to choose between fleeing their home and stopping life-saving treatment. Together with the Regional Director, we called on the Ukrainian authorities and the Minsk contact Group to urgently act to facilitate and restore medicine supply in the Donbass.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia continue to witness an expanding HIV/AIDS epidemic – in contrast with the significant decrease in incidence and AIDS-related mortality that has been seen globally in the last five years. Last year 2014, 136 000 new infections were reported in the EURO Region – the highest annual number of new HIV infections since reporting began thirty years ago and an 80% increase since 2004. Much of this increase is in the Eastern part of the region that reported over 75% of all new cases.

Some countries have stabilized or even reversed their HIV epidemics, however in twenty-one countries in the Region, newly diagnosed infections have increased by 20% or more in five years. Undiagnosed HIV is a major problem. Typically less than 50% of people living with HIV are tested and diagnosed and almost 50% of those diagnosed present at a late stage of disease. Access to treatment in the Eastern part of the region remains one of the lowest globally, and access to prevention, particularly for the most vulnerable groups – people who inject drugs, men having sex with men, sex workers, people in detention – far below the level where it should be.

The incidence and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among vulnerable groups is also associated with a high risk of acquiring TB, MDR TB and being infected with the hepatitis C virus.

Distinguished Chair and delegates,

We are at times of opportunity and risk. Advances in science, including in the science of using antiretroviral drugs, provide us now with the tools to stabilize and, one day, end the AIDS epidemic.

For our region, and specifically the Eastern part of it, this opportunity has to be urgently met with strong political commitment, adequate financial resources, implementation of much higher scale evidence-based preventative and treatment programs, and building effective partnerships with civil society and community organizations.

Given the rate of growth of the epidemic, the risk of not acting now, is that of continuing to see the number of new infections far exceed that of people accessing therapy, and an ever increasing human and social cost of the epidemic in the region.