Brussels (Belgium), 20 December 2022 – Latest data show that the AIDS pandemic is expanding, with an estimated 38.4 million people living with HIV by the end of 2021, of which nearly 10 million are not accessing life-saving treatment.
10 per cent of all new HIV cases in 2021 (i.e. 1.5 million people across the globe) occur among people who inject drugs, who face 35 times greater a risk of acquiring HIV than people who don’t.
While figures defer greatly between and within geographical regions due to differences in responses and resources, it is fundamental to close inequality gaps for people who inject drugs and promote community-led responses to end AIDS and future pandemics, both in Europe and beyond.
To mark World AIDS Day 2022, the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Aidsfonds jointly organized a virtual high-level event entitled ‘Closing inequality gaps for people who inject drugs: Promoting community-led responses for rights-based and people-centered health services’. The virtual event took place on 30 November 2022.
Bringing together around 80 participants from EU institutions and Member States, UN institutions, and community and civil society organisations, the event raised awareness about the AIDS pandemic in the EU region, reviewed the inequalities associated with injecting drug use in the EU region, determined effective community-led and rights-based responses, and articulated evidence-based policy directions.
The event comprised an interactive panel discussion moderated by Cyrus Engerer, Member of the European Parliament, with interventions from senior representatives of the Czech presidency’s office, UNODC, UNAIDS, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), Spain, the Netherlands, and the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD).
Czechia’s National Drug Coordinator Jindřich Vobořil opened the event, stating that “access to basic health care and harm reduction is paramount for us to be able to save lives. Quick and sharp actions are needed to end the AIDS pandemic.”
UNAIDS and UNODC provided updates on the AIDS pandemic and the challenges associated with people who inject drugs at global level. Matthew Kavanagh, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director a.i., highlighted the inequalities driving the AIDS pandemic and articulated three main actions needed to get the HIV response back on track, including addressing laws and policies that stigmatize people, increasing funding for the AIDS response, and building and strengthening community-led responses.
Focusing on the drug demand perspective, UNODC’s Jean-Luc Lemahieu reminded participants that “to end AIDS by 2030 and to address associated challenges for people who inject drugs, including people in prison settings, we must scale up evidence-based and community-led harm reduction services, while addressing existing stigma, discrimination and punitive laws, policies, and practices”.
During the panel discussion on EU policy implications, Judy Chang, INPUD Executive Director, pointed out that “if we have learnt anything from the HIV movement, it is that you cannot get there without communities. A commitment to true equity means that those with resources and power should be actively working to shift power and resources towards those who historically have had less”.
In parallel Philippe Roux, DG SANTE Head of Unit on Cancer and Health, stressed the readiness of the European Commission to support EU states upscale national efforts and transfer good practices across Europe and beyond, including through the new EU Global Health Strategy.
Analyzing the state of affairs within Spain, Dr. Julia del Amo, Director of the Division for the control of HIV, STIs, Viral Hepatitis and TB at the Spanish Ministry of Health, confirmed that “the Spanish social pact against stigma and discrimination associated with HIV is a tool with which to close the inequality gaps for people who inject drugs”.
Finally, Joris Jurriëns, Head of Health and AIDS at the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, underlined that “people who use drugs need care and support. Them feeling dignity for who they are, their story and choices in life is crucial in preventing more harm for themselves, their families and society. This is of great value in preventing new HIV infections”.
Speakers referred to the importance of increasing the political support to end the AIDS pandemic as well as the allocation of funding dedicated to quality HIV/AIDS treatment, care and prevention and harm reduction activities. Among the other most important takeaways of the event were involving civil society organisations and communities in the responses, minimising risks for particularly vulnerable populations, promoting universal access to healthcare, and strengthening cooperation to step up joint actions.
Here you can watch a recording of the event.