Thursday, 29 October 2009

Times: Brussels promotes condoms and clean needles to fight AIDS

Thursday, 29th October 2009 by Ivan Camilleri, Brussels

The European Commission has unveiled a five-year strategy to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, saying condoms and clean needles are the best way to stop the spread of the disease.

“A correct and consistent use of condoms remains the most effective means of HIV prevention through sexual transmission and provision of sterile needles and injecting equipment and substitution treatment are the most effective means of HIV prevention through injecting drug use,” the Commission said in a communication to member states and the European Parliament.

Launching the new strategy in Brussels this week, Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said the EU needed to continue the political momentum in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“We need to encourage people to take responsibility for themselves and their partners by talking about and practising safe sex and going for HIV testing. However, this needs to go hand in hand with respect for human rights and non-discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS. We have treatment options today that can delay the outbreak of AIDS for many years.”

The number of Europeans living with HIV and AIDS has increased at a worrying rate, from 1.5 million in 2001 to 2.2 million in 2007. About 730,000 of these live within the EU, with about 3,000 deaths reported each year.

In its strategy, the Commission is calling for a three-pronged approach based on improving prevention and testing, targeting high-risk groups, such as drug-users, homosexuals and immigrants, and focusing on those parts of Europe where AIDS has spread the most.

The Commission said efforts were needed to eliminate the stigma associated with the disease, which often prevented people from undergoing testing.

According to Commission figures, about 40 per cent of all new infections in the EU involve men having had sex with other men. About 30 per cent of HIV sufferers are unaware of the fact that they have contracted the virus.

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