Experts call for earlier HIV testing in Europe

Health experts and stakeholders at the ‘HIV in Europe 2007’ conference have called on EU states to step up early diagnosis in a drive to improve the lives of people living with HIV and reduce transmission of the disease.

“We still have an epidemic that is growing like never before in the wealthiest part of the world, where public health systems are good,” said Dr. Srdan Matic from the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe, opening the conference on 26 November 2007. The conference gathers HIV and AIDS experts to discuss optimal testing conditions and recommend an action plan to improve patient outcomes and decrease incidents of HIV across Europe. 

“We have realised that we are getting people to care too late, leading to reduced chances of survival and non-optimal antiretroviral therapy (ART),” said Jens Lundgren from Copenhagen University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, emphasising the need to find ways to increase testing, which is currently voluntary in Europe. His concerns were echoed by Dr. Richard Cocker from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who presented the results of a report on unmet needs in testing, treatment and care for HIV/AIDS in Europe – commissioned for the conference.

“Ignorance will fuel the disease further, that’s why we are now launching a call for action,” said Ton Coenen from AIDS Action Europe. The call for action emphasises the need to acknowledge that earlier diagnosis and care is urgently needed to improve the lives of people living with HIV and reduce its transmission. The call is addressed to all stakeholders across Europe and Central Asia to work towards optimal testing and care.

“We need to raise awareness and try to find out why men who have sex with men, migrants from outside the EU, injecting drug users and sex workers do not test,” said Dr. Srdan Matic. “Is it because there’s no opportunity to do so, or don’t we put it right? Or do they just have good reasons for not testing?”, he asked.

EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said he had come to the conference to “state the obvious: we need to act”. He acknowledged that even though HIV/AIDS had moved higher up on the EU political agenda over the past two years, the issue was not yet at the top. 

“We were naive about AIDS and have allowed it to become a major disease,”  said Kyprianou, explaining that if in the 1980s AIDS awareness was a top priority in the public sphere, the generations that became sexually active after the massive awareness-raising campaigns are ignorant, do not protect themselves, infect others, do not seek help and think HIV is easy to cure. 

He also said that the EU had a global approach to fighting HIV/AIDS. “It is not about charity – it is about self-defence,” said Kyprianou.

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