Ten points on HIV prevention in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

  1. The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to expand in countries of the region. The epidemic trend will not be reversed unless prevention is significantly scaled up and improved in focus and content, along with scaling up of antiretroviral therapy. The UNAIDS-Lancet Commission stated it very clearly: “Get serious about HIV prevention and continue the expansion of access to treatment, while also working to address structural determinants of health that put people at risk »
  1. The right “to not be infected by HIV” should be clearly understood as part of the right to health. Whereas responsible individual behavior is essential, it is the duty and the responsibility of the State and of public health and social services to deliver HIV prevention services and evidence-proven preventative interventions, following the international guidelines and recommendations of the WHO. This is of particular relevance for the people who are most vulnerable to HIV.
  1. The concept of “Treatment as Prevention” is strongly supported by scientific evidence, yet the coverage of antiretroviral therapy in the region is currently far from the scale where it could have a significant preventative impact at population level. Access to antiretroviral treatment needs to be significantly accelerated in the region. Vulnerable populations should have the same access to antiretroviral therapy as other populations. WHO recommends that antiretroviral therapy should be initiated in everyone living with HIV at any CD4 cell count.
  1. Prioritization of prevention interventions should be based on a comprehensive and thorough analysis of regional and national epidemiological data. Currently available data on incidence and prevalence among high-risk groups including people who inject drugs, men having sex with men or sex workers, is very limited in the region.
  1. Preventative interventions will not be effective unless legal and policy-related obstacles to an enabling environment for these interventions are removed. Criminalization and stigmatization of some of the key populations at high risk for HIV have been shown in numerous studies in the region and across the world, to fuel the HIV epidemic. People who are discriminated against, marginalized and/or criminalized tend to go underground and have reduced access to prevention and treatment services.   Criminalization clearly does not serve the interests of public health. Laws, policies and practices should be reviewed and, where necessary, revised to allow the implementation of healthcare services for key populations.
  1. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and peer communities have a strong capacity to reach out to people most at risk, deliver information and implement prevention services. Social contracting mechanisms with NGOs should urgently be established, building on existing programs such as those funded in the region by the Global Fund. As we have seen in every country, government alone will never stop HIV. Working with [and empowering] affected communities is an essential element of the fight against HIV.
  1. The HIV epidemic in the Russian Federation and in the region has been and remains largely driven by unsafe drug injection. Harm reduction including all of the elements of the “package” of interventions recommended by WHO, UNAIDS and UNODC, should be implemented everywhere in the region. Methadone and buprenorphine are on the Essential Medicines List of WHO.
  1. Prevention works. Consistent and correct use of male condoms reduces sexual transmission of HIV by up to 94%. The literature has also unambiguously documented that harm reduction, pre-exposure antiretroviral prophylaxis, and post-exposure prophylaxis and antiretroviral treatment are effective in preventing HIV infection. National policies are to be based on this scientific evidence.
  1. Combination prevention, i.e the combined use of all available evidence-proven preventative interventions prioritizing those with the most acute epidemiological needs in a region, is a key element of the strategy of intensification of the AIDS response that UNAIDS is calling for, for the period 2016-2020. UNAIDS also recommends that 25% of national AIDS budgets are dedicated to prevention. Current budgets for prevention are far below these figures in most countries of the region.
  1. This year is the fifth consecutive Eastern Europe and Central Asia AIDS Conference (EECAAC) that sees a continuing growth of the epidemic in the region. The time for scaling up treatment and prevention is now. The need is more urgent than ever.