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UNAIDS Proposes New Strategy to End AIDS Epidemic by 2030

The UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board adopted a new strategy for the next 5 years at its recent annual meeting, saying the initiative could "end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat" by 2030. UNAIDS aims to accelerate the global response to the epidemic with the goal of getting most people living with HIV tested, treated, and virally suppressed, as well as ending AIDS-related stigma and discrimination.


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EACS 2015: When Will Europe Get PrEP?

Pressure is mounting at the community level for access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in Europe and is likely to continue to increase in the absence of decisions by funding authorities and regulators, leading to more informal use, speakers said at the 15th European AIDS Conference this week in Barcelona. At the moment, PrEP is not being funded by national or regional governments in Europe, and any use that is occurring is either the result of individual arrangements with doctors, private prescribing outside the public health systems, or informal and unmonitored use.



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IDWeek 2015: Affordable Care Act Coverage Improves Chances of HIV Viral Suppression

Enrolling low-income and under-insured people with HIV in an Affordable Care Act (ACA) health plan improves their odds of having sustained antiretroviral treatment and undetectable viral load, according to a presentation at ID Week 2015 in San Diego. This study adds to the recent evidence confirming the benefits of providing healthcare coverage for people living with HIV.


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EACS 2015: Can Europe Reach the 90-90-90 Target for HIV Treatment by 2020?

The European region needs to step up prevention and treatment activities if it is to reach the UNAIDS target of 90% of people with HIV diagnosed, 90% of those diagnosed on treatment, and 90% of those on treatment with fully suppressed viral load by 2020, the United Nations Secretary-Generals Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia told the opening session of the 15th European AIDS Conference today in Barcelona on Wednesday.


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The 90-90-90 target promoted by UNAIDS, if achieved, would result in 73% of people living with HIV having undetectable viral load. Mathematical modeling suggests that achieving this target by 2020 would end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

"Europe is not done with AIDS and there is no room for complacency," Professor Michel Kazatchkine told delegates.

"There isn’t one Europe," Kazatchkine said at a press conference on the opening day of the conference. The World Health Organization's Europe region covers 53 countries, and "in fact, there are 3 Europes -- Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and Western Europe -- with different epidemics, different responses, and different levels of success."

The Eastern European epidemic continues to grow, driven largely by unchecked epidemics among people who inject drugs, but autonomous epidemics are also emerging among heterosexual men and women through sexual transmission in the region, Kazatchkine warned. These high levels of transmission make it unlikely that Eastern Europe will be in a position to reach the 90-90-90 target by 2020, he said. Prevention services are not accessible at sufficient scale, access to harm reduction remains very limited, and very low levels of cooperation on the part of government towards non-governmental organizations impedes the scale-up of prevention activities.

In Central Europe, despite low prevalence, HIV incidence has been rising gradually in many countries. The epidemic remains highly concentrated among men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs, but there is "limited willingness to pay" for programs aimed at these vulnerable groups among governments in the region, Kazatchkine said. He reminded delegates of the consequences of reducing HIV prevention services in the region: after Global Fund funding for harm reduction was gradually withdrawn from Romania when it joined the European Union in 2007, the country suddenly went from a minimal epidemic to high incidence among people who inject drugs in less than 2 years.

Although Western Europe appears to have everything needed to mount a successful response to HIV, the overall level of new infections has remained stable over the past decade. Despite universal health coverage, excellent HIV care, and high levels of social support, new infections have increased among men who have sex with men over the past 10-15 years. Much more intense efforts are needed in both prevention and treatment, but the 90-90-90 targets should be achievable for both Western and Central Europe, Kazatchkine predicted.

But, he told the conference, "If we do not intensify our efforts in the next 5 years, we will not be on the path to ending AIDS."

"We need to look carefully at the weaknesses in the European response. We are still missing many infections among men who have sex with men and migrants from countries with generalized epidemics," Kazatchkine said. In particular he expressed concern about testing frequency among men who have sex with men: if a large proportion of new infections among men who have sex with men are a consequence of acquiring HIV from partners who are themselves recently infected, yearly testing may be too infrequent to pick up recent infections and start treatment early enough to interrupt a chain of new infections. "Self-testing will be one of the solutions," he suggested.

A focus on the groups of people left behind will also be necessary: people who inject drugs, migrants, sex workers, and men who have sex with men continue to lack access to testing, treatment, and care in many settings in the region, yet are the groups most affected by HIV.

Closing the treatment gap will be necessary in order to reach the 90-90-90 target, Kazatchkine said. At the moment, the number of new HIV diagnoses in many countries in Eastern Europe continues to exceed the number of people who start treatment each year, which means that the treatment gap is growing, not shrinking. The treatment gap is made worse by national guidelines restricting treatment to people with CD4 cell counts below 350 cells/mm3 throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and by alarmingly poor rates of diagnosis and retention in care. The average treatment cascade for the region as a whole shows that only 47% of people living with HIV know that they are infected. In the Russian Federation, the country with the largest number of people living with HIV, only 12% of HIV-positive people are on treatment.

Late diagnosis continues to be a major challenge for achieving high treatment coverage in Western Europe, especially among migrants who often lack good access to health care. In Eastern Europe, treatment coverage is around 35%, compared to a global average approaching 60%, Kazatchkine told the press conference. "People are very reluctant to go to services because of stigma and discrimination, because of a lack of coordination between TB and HIV services, and because of criminalization of people who inject drugs." Less than 10% of people who inject drugs who are living with HIV are currently accessing treatment in Eastern Europe, he said.

Tamás Berezcky of the European AIDS Treatment Group said that stigma and discrimination are the biggest barriers to testing and treatment among men who have sex with men in Central Europe, and stigma within the community is an important barrier to seeking care. "If you look at how men who have sex with men treat other MSM with HIV it’s very depressing," he told the press conference. He said that stigma is being reinforced by a lack of information about HIV, including a lack of awareness regarding recent advances in HIV treatment, the normal life expectancy of people who receive appropriate antiretroviral therapy, and the impact of treatment on transmission.

There is also insufficient focus on partnership with community organizations, Kazatchkine said. Berezcky called on scientists to join in partnership with the community to achieve implementation.

The financial sustainability of the HIV response in Eastern and Central Europe is also a serious concern following the withdrawal of Global Fund support for HIV and tuberculosis programs in the region. Global Fund support has come to an end as a result of a decision to focus future funding on lower-income countries, despite the political difficulties of funding the necessary prevention and treatment services in Eastern Europe.



15th European AIDS Conference. Barcelona, October 21-24, 2015.

IAS 2015: The TPP and Access to HIV and HCV Treatment [VIDEO]

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, now under consideration, will heavily impact the availability of medications for HIV and viral hepatitis, both in middle-income countries and in high-income countries such as Canada that rely on generic drugs, advocates said at a Médecins Sans Frontières media briefing at the recent 8th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Vancouver.


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