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Conclusive Regional Dialogue on HIV held

By Tea Mariamidze
Friday, October 31
The UNDP hosted a regional dialogue on HIV, rights and universal access in Eastern Europe in Tbilisi on October 29-30. The dialogue brought together more than 70 distinguished members of civil society, government and international organizations that work in the field of HIV from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine.

The dialogue tackled a serious rights and health issue: the growing HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and the need to scale-up and improve access to prevention, treatment, care and support. The key focus of the discussions was obstacles encountered in legislation, policies and practices, such as criminalization of HIV transmission, criminalization of behavior of people most at risk of HIV, stigma and discrimination, inadequate provisions on prevention, treatment, care and support, including harm reduction.

The dialogue assessed how civil society has helped improve the response to HIV in the region, what were the challenges in interaction with governments and what would be the next steps in order to ensure that communities of people living with HIV, NGOs and civil society actors have meaningful roles as quality service providers.

Shombi Sharp, Deputy Head of UNDP in Georgia stressed that Eastern Europe and Central Asia is home to a growing HIV epidemic: rising from an estimated 800,000 people living with the virus in 2001 to 1.3 million as of 2013.

Renate Utzschmid, Regional Programmes Neighbourhood East Programme Manager, DG Development and Cooperation – Europe Aid, stated that the situation of human rights’ defenders, including people living of HIV and key populations, is a priority for the European Union. “While HIV-specific calls for proposals are not foreseen in the near future, there are numerous other support opportunities available to non-state actors who work on rights and minorities’ issues, including HIV. We can learn a lot from civil society in the region and another opportunity for engagement would be participation in the debates of the HIV Civil Society Forum and the HIV Think Tank”, she said.

Evgeniy Spevak, Eurasian Union of People Living with HIV and Belarusian Union of PLHIV admitted that HIV is a matter of human rights. Access to treatment is fulfilling the human right to health. She added that according to international human rights law, states have the obligation to undertake legal, financial and administrative measure to make this right as close as possible to the highest attainable standards of health.

“Practically all countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have signed international instruments that guarantee the rights of the citizens of these countries in general and people who live with HIV in particular,” Spevak said.

The Regional Dialogue is a conclusive part of the regional project “ HIV, Rights and Universal Access in Eastern Europe” implemented by fourteen non-government organizations in partnership with UNDP and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) since 2012. The project is co-financed by the European Union.