Today is World AIDS Day, the day to raise awareness on what is HIV and what needs to be done in order to tackle the challenges triggered by this global pandemic. It is also the moment for activists to show people how to prevent HIV infection and to promote early diagnosis through HIV testing. It is timely to repeat once again that seropositive persons do not need to be put under quarantine, because shaking hands, hugging, kissing, talking and sharing the same air will not represent a threat to your own health. Moreover, it is the time of eye-opening anti-stigmatization, because none of us are entirely safe from contracting HIV.
There are various ways in which it is possible to get infected by HIV: sexual contact; from HIV-positive mother to children during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding; as a result of blood transfusion; occupational exposure (e.g. health care professionals) and finally, due to the use of injection drugs.
Regarding prevention of HIV infection through sexual contact, scientists are developing multiple prophylactic devices. Apart from the traditional multi-sized, multi-textured and multi-flavored male condom, and the less popular female condom, there is a whole set of innovative products under development for achieving cheap, comfortable, safe-sex. The products being researched range from anti-retroviral microbicide gels, vaginal rings, dissolving tablets, to oral solutions and the so badly wanted anti-HIV vaccine.
Thousands of scientists in the world work daily for curving the spread of HIV through improving prevention. After all, prevention is better than a cure. Especially given in this particular case, where the possible cures are still under study in the labs, and in spite of so much hype, nowadays they are more a hope than a reality. This is partly because of te high capacity of the HIV virus to mutate and generate drug resistance.
Some traditions and beliefs deeply enrooted in culture play a role in HIV prevention. It is not only about the ethics of using prophylactics. It is also about the real potential of male circumcision to reduce the risk of getting HIV, or the futility of vaginal showers after sexual intercourse to prevent the infection. Surely, today is a good day to get informed about facts and myths.
Finally, all AIDS-related organisations and political institutions are in the spotlight at the moment. Important decisions such as the possibility of providing people with home-use HIV kits for self-testing, the allocation of funding for HIV research and HIV-related aid to developing countries, the ban for homosexuals to donate blood or whether HIV-infected people can donate organs to other seropositive individuals, are in their hands. What does society expect from them?
STATE OF AFFAIRS IN EUROPE
If we regard solely the present, figures on HIV trends in Europe are not something to celebrate. Last week, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control stated that more than 131 000 people living in the WHO European Region got infected in 2012. This figure represents a rise of up to 8% for HIV infections. However, most of the people who got HIV in 2012 live in Eastern Europe and central Asian countries. In the EU and EEA countries, HIV infections grew nearly 1%.
One of the most notable cases of rising HIV infections within the EU is that of Greece, to the extent that the WHO previously stated that Greeks were intentionally infecting themselves with HIV to claim for a social benefit of 700 euros per month. Opposed to giving rise to controversies, the WHO has taken this back and apologized, but aloof the hypothetical link between the increase of seropositive people and the rise of poverty in the Hellenic country; the worrying figures call for action.
From a political perspective, it is interesting to note that the EU will grant nearly 70 billion euros to Research and Innovation in the period of 2014-2020 within the framework of the upcoming HORIZON 2020 Framework Programme. The third largest amount of funding will be invested in a package of research activities, including research for HIV and AIDS. This dovetails with the first priority of the 7 Societal Challenges of Horizon 2020, namely “Health, demographic change and well-being”.
Furthermore, the Multiannual Health Programme 2014-2020 will be instrumental in shaping the role of the Union in the global fight against AIDS, and the way it funds the implementation of HIV/AIDS programmes. Last November, the institutions agreed upon the budget (€ 449.394 million) envelope, internal governance and co-financing for Joint Actions. Adoption will take place during the Spring of 2014.
In leiu of these programmes and declarations of intentions, it is worth considering whether the EU is doing enough to tackle HIV in, and outside its territory.
In spite of these and many other challenges to face, today is the moment to celebrate the huge developments that our society has experienced in terms of HIV sensitization, prevention and treatment in the last years. It is also the moment to toast to all that is to be done, and to think of what could be done in the future in order to achieve an AIDS free generation.
To learn about what the EU does to tackle the HIV pandemic click here
To learn about the upcoming European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP 2) click here
Check ongoing and finished EU projects and results related with HIV here
Q&A: The Fight Against HIV/AIDS by the EU (2012)
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