HIV/AIDS is still prevalent, not only in developing countries but also in Europe. The number of reported HIV cases in EU member states has doubled since 1998 and half of the new cases affect people aged 15-25. A number of EU initiatives aim to increase understanding and awareness of HIV/AIDS issues and bring relief to the third world.

In a European high-level conference on AIDS in September 2004 health ministers, AIDS experts, industry and civil society committed to a co-ordinated continent-wide effort to fight the disease. The "Vilnius declaration" endorses a package of measures such as speeding up authorisation of new drugs and vaccines, to counter a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

A Commission Communication, adopted in December 2005, sets out the main approaches for EU action to combat HIV/AIDS within the EU and in the neighbouring countries in 2006-2009. 

Two other Communications, an action programme to confront HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis through external action (2007-2011) and a coherent European policy framework for external action to confront these diseases set to the EU action in developing countries.

According to the latest statistics on reported HIV infections in EU countries, there has been nearly a doubling of cases reported between 1998 and 2005. Estonia reports more than twice as many cases as the other member states and the number of new infections in Portugal is also above the EU average. The most common method of transmission is heterosexual intercourse, even though many of the rapid rises in infections are due to intravenous drug users and 50% of the latest cases affect people aged 15-25. 

Combating HIV/AIDS within the EU and in the neighbouring countries

The Commission's Communication on combating HIV/AIDS within the EU and in the neighbouring countries 2006-2009 (December 2005) sets out the main lines for current EU action. Its focus is on supporting activities to combat the problem at national level, and on prevention through awareness campaigns at European level.

Awareness raising is certainly needed, as a recent Eurobarometer on AIDS prevention shows that young people are less and less aware of HIV/AIDS. In addition, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has estimated that one third of Europeans infected are unaware that they are HI- positive. The survey also showed that although levels of awareness regarding the epidemic are generally high, citizens from new member states are most likely to be misinformed on the issue. 

EU health ministers agreed, in June 2006, that prevention, the fight against stigma and discrimination, the relaunch of information campaigns, easy and equal access to treatment, combating prostitution and the trade in narcotics, investment in research for new treatments and vaccines are the key to halting the spread of the epidemic. 

Combating HIV/AIDS in the developing world 

The EU provides support to interventions dealing with the three main poverty-related diseases HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, in developing countries. A thematic programme provides financial support for innovative actions, which are complementary to other Commission programmes. The overall objectives are to optimise the impact of existing interventions, increase the affordability of key pharmaceuticals and diagnostics and increase R&D in vaccines, microbicides and innovative treatments.

Business response

HIV/AIDS particularly affects developing countries' economies. According to a recent global business survey on HIV/AIDS, around half of firms expect HIV/AIDS to pose a threat to their business in the next five years. Worldwide, 46% of firms report some current or future impact from the disease. However, the same study reveals that around three-quarters of companies have not established HIV/AIDS policy, except in countries where HIV prevalence hits 20%. 

Regionally, businesses in sub-Saharan Africa are the most concerned across all sectors. Most of the companies' policies focus on HIV prevention, whereas antiretroviral drug treatment for AIDS is less common. 

The World Economic Forum's Global Health Initiative the largest public-private sector network in health, was launched in 2002 to aim to engage businesses in public-private partnerships to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The Commission has initiated collaboration, for example, with the Global Business Coalition (an alliance of some 200 international companies dedicated to combating the AIDS epidemic) and the pharmaceutical industry to define areas in which they could work together.

"We were naive about AIDS and have allowed it to become a major disease," EU Health Commissioner Markos 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. 

"The absolute main priority for action on HIV/AIDS, in European region, is prevention programmes for vulnerable groups. Not only the existence of these programmes, but also their sustainability. It is very important that all young people from age of 12 up to 25 have access to prevention programmes, especially the most vulnerable group. Prevalence is rising in young gay men due to lack of information and acceptance of risky behaviours. The most vulnerable groups include also immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa as they don't have access to prevention programmes or services," said the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Liaison Officer to the EU, Denis Haveaux. 

"As to the developing world, the EU has two roles to play: to use the huge amount of money it has for development policy to be sure that its programmes to fight HIV/AIDS are sustainable and to promote values that it brings to the debate. In addition, business has an important role to play as well. However, the main focus is not really in Europe, but in the United States and the Anglo-Saxon world, where you have big coalitions of enterprises against HIV/AIDS. We work closely with the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS," he added.

According to a recent global business survey on HIV/AIDS, "business is making strong progress in partnering with governments, multilateral organizations and communities to support the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Workplace prevention and education programs are also now widespread, but efforts to collaborate with suppliers, fully utilise senior leadership and extend interventions in emerging markets still need an effective response." 

The study shows that companies increasingly see HIV/AIDS both as a strategic and as a social responsibility issue, but business response varies by region, industry and enterprise scale. 

"By using the workplace as a means to communicate and treat employees, businesses can make an enormous difference to the community and the fight against HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis," said Francesca Boldrini, Director of the Global Health Initiative.

"As a leading multinational company in Africa we acknowledge the expectations upon us to provide intellectually robust and humane solutions to address and ameliorate the impact of this disease throughout our sphere of influence and across our global operations," states SABMiller, one of the world's leading brewers. HIV/AIDS affects the company's business through availability of employees and the health and well-being of consumers. "The extent of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and related socio-economic consequences is cause for our company to manage this as an operational and reputation priority," states an official position. All affiliated companies are required to assess their internal level of HIV/AIDS risk, on an annual basis, and to report this information to the company's sustainable development department.

"AIDS is uniquely destructive to economies, because it kills people in the prime of their lives. Especially in its early stages, the epidemic tends to strike urban centres, the better educated, the elite in leadership and the most productive members of society. These deaths leach profits out of businesses and economies," said the former secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. "There are already several examples of the enormous impact which corporate action can have in the fight against HIV/AIDS. They exist both in the workplace, which is one of the most effective places to educate and reach people, and in global efforts through advocacy, in-kind support, engagement with partners and direct donations," he added.

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), a global not-for-profit, public-private partnership working to accelerate the development of a vaccine to prevent HIV infection and AIDS, thinks that the EU and its member states can significantly contribute to discovery of an AIDS vaccine. This is, according to IAVI, possible through increased contribution and flexibility in the use of funds designated for AIDS-vaccine research and development.

IAVI argues that the Commission's current research-funding mechanisms focus on supporting basic research and are not sufficiently flexible to support product-development efforts or the needs that emerge during the development process. The initiative also urges increased support for international product-development public-private partnerships and incentives to increase industry's engagement.

"Twenty years down the line it is absolutely clear that the HIV&AIDS pandemic is ahead of the global response," states ActionAid International urging move from political commitments to real political action. The organisation also highlights the need to guarantee the rights of poor and excluded vulnerable people to demand actions from governments and to promote the leadership of women in an effective response to HIV/AIDS. 

Stop Aids Alliance, a partnership between the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and Stop AIDS Now! has identified access to treatments as one of its key policy areas. The alliance argues that there is "little evidence within European policy of a commitment to the delivery of treatments".

  • May 2006: Commission President Barroso calls for increased private-sector support to fight HIV/AIDS.
  • 30 Nov. 2006: The Parliament adopts a resolution on AIDS.
  • Jan. -July 2007: HIV/AIDS prevention one of the German EU Presidency's health priorities.
  • 20-26 May 2007Global AIDS Week.
  • 24 April 2007: Parliament adopts a resolution on combating HIV/AIDS within the EU and in the neighbouring countries, 2006-2009. The MEPs, among other action points, urge the Commission to assess the possibilities for establishing Public Private Partnerships within the neighbouring countries to promote fight against the epidemic.
  • March 2007: "Partnership and Responsibility - Together Against HIV/AIDS" ministerial conference on HIV prevention. The conference participants agreed on a Bremen declaration committing themselves to fighting the epidemic together at the global level. 
  • 12-13 Oct. 2007: EU meeting on "Translating principles into action" in the European region and EU neighbouring countries.
  • 23 Oct. 2007: Commission adopted a new EU health strategy 2008-2013. One of the outlining priciples of the strateggy is to srengthen the EU's voice in global health in relation to communicacable diseases such as HIV/AIDS. 
  • 26-27 Nov. 2007HIV in Europe 2007 conference issues a call to action for optimal testing and earlier care.
  • 1 Dec.World AIDS Day.
  • An EU campaign AIDS-remember me? urges young people 'to remember that HIV/AIDS is still with us'.

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