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Joined: 09/03/2009

Approximately 1.6 million children and adults were living with HIV in 2001 in the WHO European Region, and estimations suggest that this number increased to 2.4 million people in 2008 and is still rising. Alarmingly, around half of those people do not know that they are infected. Despite the progress in achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support across the Region over the last decade, the fight against HIV epidemic still faces many challenges.

  • No country knows exactly how many infected people it has within its borders, making it difficult for the health system to offer appropriate scale of medical services, including medical treatment and care.
  • For HIV combination therapy to work, it is best started at a time when the patient is still relatively healthy. Unfortunately, many Europeans with HIV start treatment too late and already show signs of widespread immune system damage, leading to excess mortality among people infected with HIV/AIDS in western Europe.
  • Access to life-saving combination therapy is inadequate in a number of eastern countries; as a result, patients who need the therapy often do not receive it. Lack of access to treatment reduces the incentive to get tested, as does fear of discrimination and stigmatization.
  • Tuberculosis (TB) remains widespread in eastern Europe. The risk of developing TB is far greater for people living with HIV if the infection is not treated. For this reason, the incidence of TB will likely continue to rise in eastern Europe.
  • More than half of the estimated 2.5 million people living with HIV are also chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The people most at risk of HIV/HCV coinfection are injecting drug users (IDU) and men who have sex with men (MSM). Coinfection can lead to life-threatening liver failure. Hepatitis is difficult to treat, and this situation is likely to lead to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths in the years to come.

WHO/Europe works to address these challenges. As one of the 10 co-sponsors of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), WHO/Europe’s activities are carried out within the broader context of the United Nations goal of universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010.

The main outputs include:

  • evidence for increased awareness and understanding of the epidemic;
  • assistance to countries to develop effective and appropriate health sector policies, regarding HIV/AIDS;
  • technical support to countries in implementing large-scale essential HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care services, including universal access to antiretroviral treatment; and
  • improved national and regional HIV/AIDS surveillance and information.

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