The 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) took place from 18 till 22 July, 2016 in Durban, South Africa. This year’s slogan was Access Equity Rights Now. Our colleague, Michael Krone, was attending the conference. Please see below his article focusing on the situation in the EECA region.

“I am hearing only bad news on Radio Africa” is a song from the 80s that I, currently attending the International AIDS Conference 2016 in Durban, feel like changing into “I do not get much news from Eastern Europe and Central Asia”. Of course it is necessary and important to focus predominantly on the situation in African countries when the IAC is happening here. However, the Eastern European and Central Asian part of the world where actually the epidemic is growing, is almost not present neither what speakers nor what topics are concerned. Together with our colleagues from ECUO, EATG and AFEW we at least could arrange a Q&A session with Michel Kazatchkine, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and Anke van Dam, Executive Director of the AIDS Foundation East West to explore and discuss strategies for a better response to the epidemic in this region.

Currently we are hearing only bad news on Radio Russia

The situation in the biggest country of the region is not improving at all and recent legislation changes have made the work of NGOs in the region really difficult. The law to register as foreign agent has reached the HIV field and organisations like ESVERO or the Andrey Rylkov Foundation (here the link to their press release) have reported how badly this law is affecting their work. But also the anti-gay propaganda law and the ban on harm reduction measures, like Opiate Substitution Treatment, effectuate the work of NGOs directed to key populations, leave alone prevention work directed to sex workers and to people in prisons. If key populations are left behind so tremendously this epidemic is not to stop and people from all key populations and the general public will continue to get infected and die. The situation key affected populations are living in is outrageous and it is a scandal that there is not more of an uproar in the Western countries, in particular what the foreign agent legislation is concerned.

Shto delat?

A famous saying by Lenin meaning: What to do? The next International AIDS Conference will take place in Amsterdam in 2018. If this conference is about ending AIDS by 2030 and reminding stakeholders, politicians and decision makers to keep the promise, the next World AIDS Conference needs to ensure that there is a turning point in the epidemic in the EECA countries. If we do not succeed in getting politicians and decision makers from the most affected countries to Amsterdam, if key populations continue to be left behind, efficient prevention measures that have proved to be working are not fully implemented, and access to quality treatment and care does not improve dramatically – that is we do not get near the 90-90-90 targets, the global community will have failed.

There are countries in the region that show that it is possible to go different ways than Russia does. Belarus has developed a very pragmatic approach with OST and NSP implementation. The latter also accounts for Kazakhstan. Ukraine has shown that it is possible to curb the epidemic. Also, this is not only about HIV but also about viral Hepatitis and TB, not only as co-infections of HIV but also as mono-infections. We need to ensure that these two major diseases responsible for thousands of deaths each year in the region are addressed adequately, either with decent pre-conferences or preferably with singular tracks in the conference. There is a lot to do and we have to start now. The situation is more than alarming and if Amsterdam fails, there is not much hope left for the people in the region.

Michael Krone
Executive Coordinator
AIDS Action Europe