This interview with Anke van Dam, the Chair of AIDS Action Europe (AAE) and the executive director of AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW), is about the main objectives of AAE for the next years, the achievements AAE has already gained and the regional challenges and differences in the region it works in. In addition Anke points out why a strong advocacy to UN and international donors is needed.
What are the main objectives in the response to HIV for the next three years for AAE?
It is important that the European Commission (EC) develops and adopts a new policy framework for HIV and AIDS in the next three years. The current Action Plan, deriving from the Communication "Combating HIV/AIDS in the European Union and neighbouring countries 2009-2013" has been extended but it needs an urgent update.
There is still a high need for keeping HIV and AIDS on the political agenda of the EC. In the different regions of the European Union we still face severe concerns regarding prevention, treatment and care for HIV. There are still too many new HIV infections in our region and the cascade of the 90-90-90 UNAIDS target is in a majority of countries is not met.
Furthermore I would like to see that AAE expands its role of ‘broker of knowledge and expertise’ between the members of the network. When the capacity of advocacy and/or implementation of HIV services of the members are improved, we can better curb the epidemic.
How does AAE want to reach these goals?
The HIV/AIDS Civil Society Forum is an important body to advise the European Commission and to urge the Commission to take action. AAE is well connected with European health and policy related Institutes. Representatives of AAE are invited to meetings, advisory groups and conferences and that is how AAE advocates for political attention and funding for HIV, and expresses the interest to involve civil society in policy making. Furthermore, AAE offers assistance to its members when they need support in their advocacy efforts. That’s how AAE supported Latvian NGOs in urging their government in offering treatment when the CD4 cell count reaches 350 instead of the 200 CD4/mm3 as it was before the summer of 2015. This is a good example how AAE can help their members in moving political agendas for the better in the life of people affected by HIV.
AAE is a network of NGOs, networks, service organisations, activists- and community-based groups of PLHIV in Europe and Central Asia. What are the different challenges which AAE is facing in these regions?
The HIV prevalence differs very much among the different key populations per sub-region. In the Western part of Europe the HIV prevalence is high among MSM and has not shown a decrease in the last couple of years. In the Eastern part of Europe HIV infections are still high among people who inject drugs. The group of migrants and undocumented migrants have the least access to prevention and care and are therefore most vulnerable to HIV. These differences per key population and per sub-region demand a different approach in advocacy for prevention and treatment. Underlying factors remain the stigma and discrimination towards those groups in society, and this is something that AAE is taking up seriously. That is why AAE wants to keep monitoring stigma and discrimination as barriers to health services in the Dublin questionnaire to be filled in by governmental authorities and civil society.
AFEW is working in the EECA region. How do you assess the recent developments in this region?
Worrisome for the region is the withdrawal of the Global Fund. Global Fund financially supported many services for the key populations most at risk for HIV. When GF pulls out, a big financial gap will emerge as local governments will not fill in that gap with domestic funding. There is not enough political will to ensure prevention, treatment and care for HIV and AIDS with own resources. This leads to the fact that key populations at risk are without means to protect themselves, and that all efforts to mitigate the HIV epidemic will be lost.
A strong advocacy to UN and international donors is needed to ensure enough funding for the most essential services for people affected by HIV.
One strategic direction of AAE is to develop a stronger and more effective organisation and network. How do you want to strengthen the network?
AAE is strengthening its network by involving its members more and more with projects and activities. Currently AAE has 3 projects in which members of the network are actively participating in developing strategies for advocacy and implementation. Another direction that AAE will take is to consult its members by the development of work plans and strategic framework. In fall 2016 AAE hope to be able to invite members for advice and in this consultation to listen to the needs of the members and what kind of support they expect from AAE. AAE hopes with this approach to enhance exchange with its members and strengthen the network.
What is the benefit for AFEW of being a member of AAE?
AFEW has been a member of the network since the start of AAE in 2004. For AFEW AAE is the gateway to the European Commission and to be informed about EU policies and programmes. Vice versa AFEW provides AAE with information about the region it works in, Eastern Europe and Central-Asia with the objective to address the gaps and needs of NGOs for support in advocacy activities. AAE is crucial for the exchange of information and expertise between East and West, like AFEW has it in its name (AIDS Foundation East-West).