Spreading information, not infection, and protecting vulnerable groups in Europe against sexually transmitted diseases
Over 50 000 people a year are diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the EU and neighboring countries. Effective treatment of HIV infection exists but there is still no cure, nor a preventive vaccine. That is why EU policy focuses on prevention, and support for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Furthermore, in 2010, 49% of new cases of HIV in the EU were diagnosed in migrants born outside their country of residence. Studies show that migrants from countries with wide-scale HIV epidemics are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS in at least 16 EU countries.
The EU policies on HIV and AIDS prevention involve providing political support to authorities and stakeholders in EU countries and neighboring countries to:
- improve access to prevention, treatment, care and support,
- reach migrants from countries with a high prevalence of HIV, and
- improve policies targeting the populations most at risk.
Marginalised populations such as migrants, sex workers and ethnic minorities are amongst the most vulnerable and hard to reach populations in Europe – they are also at high risk of HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases. Two EU projects funded by the Public Health Programme specialise in highly active prevention, treatment and care of these groups: Correlation II and BORDERNETwork.
Correlation II: reaching vulnerable groups
Correlation II, based in Amsterdam, aims to provide help and information on how to access health treatment to drug addicts, sex workers and migrants without any papers, in particular those suffering from blood-borne infectious diseases, such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. One of the outcomes of the project’s work has been a manual produced for outreach workers across Europe illustrating different approaches and ideas to stimulate new ways to reach young, marginalised people. Once reached, they are given help in accessing healthcare. This may be provided directly by the local heath sector or from other groups associated with the Correlation network.
BORDERNETwork: border regions and beyond
If the Correlation network works within the EU borders, BORDERNETwork is concerned with vulnerable groups in border regions, in central, eastern and south-eastern Europe. The project has also defined cross-border agreements. In order to sustain the projects' work once the pilot schemes are finished there have been ‘fact finding’ missions to see development on the other side of the borders in Ukraine, Moldavia and Serbia and a survey of sex workers in six countries has been undertaken. It is hoped the results will show transmission routes. With this information, BORDERNETwork will be able to develop successful strategies for diagnostics and healthcare.
As the names of the projects suggest – it is all about creating networks to reach out to vulnerable populations across Europe. For example, using its expertise and model from the Netherlands, Correlation project has had extraordinary results in Slovenia where there has been an 88% success rate amongst treatment of hepatitis C in intravenous drug users. Through networking and linking together with over 30 partners, BORDERNETwork has been involving minority communities in their own sexual health programmes – a good example of this is a social and Health Community Centre in the Roma community of Fakulteta, in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Creating networks across Europe
The results achieved by these projects have had an influence on policy recommendations on HIV/AIDS. Through better exchange of knowledge and more cross-border collaboration, networks across Europe have been created. They are helping to further identify best practices and disseminate ideas on how to prevent the spread of infection, particularly amongst more vulnerable population groups.
The subject of AIDS and human rights will be further developed in a conference co-organised by European Commission and UNAIDS, which will be held on 27-28 May in Brussels. The main objective of this conference is to build upon European commitments to rights-based approaches to HIV/AIDS and to take stock of the situation across the European region. It also aims to identify steps to be taken for the Commission’s AIDS strategy.