The opening of the 2021 HepHIV Conference marks a push toward further integrated strategies for the prevention, early testing and linkage to care for people with HIV, viral hepatitis and other infectious diseases in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 500 people gathered via a virtual conference platform for the seventh HepHIV2021 Conference to highlight European progress, challenges and way forward to ensuring early and integrated testing and care for people with HIV, viral hepatitis and other infectious diseases with a specific focus on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

With 54 abstracts representing 16 countries that were presented during the three-day event, the conference featured the latest evidence from research and programmes, lessons learned and how to address the challenges ahead in Europe.

Since its inception in 2007, the biannual HepHIV conference is organised by the EuroTEST (formerly HIV in Europe) initiative and affiliated partners. Initially planned to be hosted in Lisbon, Portugal, the 2021 HepHIV conference was organized under the Auspice of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, in collaboration with the EU funded Joint Action INTEGRATE, and is endorsed by the European Commission and a number of European organisations, clinical societies and community networks.

The conference was also organised in close collaboration with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and included three dedicated sessions focusing on testing and care for people who use or inject drugs, including testing in prison settings.

Taking advantage of the virtual format, the 2021 HepHIV conference provided Russian simultaneous translation of all main sessions, offered free registration and on-demand access to all pre-recorded talks, thereby reaching participants who would not normally have been able to travel to the physical conference.

     “We must continue to improve current efforts to reach those people who are still missing out on prevention, testing and care for HIV, hepatitis, STIs, TB and other infectious diseases as we pursue providing universal health coverage and progress toward the Sustainable Developments Goals and the UNAIDS targets. To do this, patient voices must be meaningfully included and addressed in policy and decision-making processes, so we avoid replicating health models that do not work optimally” says Dr Ricardo Baptista Leite, HepHIV2021 Conference Co-chair, MP Portugal and founder of UNITE Global Parliamentarians Network.

     “Portugal has achieved impressive progress toward the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets for HIV, has provided universal access to Hepatitis C treatment and has several model examples in integration of prevention and testing for HIV, hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis, particularly in terms of provision of people-centred services for people who inject drugs. Ensuring quality services are provided to all persons, particularly key populations, is essential in controlling these epidemics as public health threats” says Dr. Jürgen Rockstroh, HepHIV2021 Conference Co-chair, Professor of Medicine and Head of the University of Bonn HIV Outpatient Clinic & EuroTEST Steering Committee Co-Chair.

The 2021 HepHIV Conference scientific programme showcased research and interventions throughout Europe that are effectively addressing multiple infectious diseases, sharing successful models of service adaptations developed to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and building of stronger systems and communities in light of lessons learned, thereby ensuring that more people are able to access timely prevention, testing and treatment.

The data presented at the HepHIV2021 conference confirms that the COVID-19 pandemic has had considerable impact on testing for HIV, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis in Europe. However, many services have shown great flexibility and adapted positively to mitigate these challenges, and ongoing support from policy makers and stakeholders at all levels is key to maintain these services going forward. We cannot slow down now, or we risk jeopardising years of hard work to achieve our current progress” says Daniel Simões, HepHIV2021 Conference and EuroTEST Co-chair, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at Coalition Plus and member of Grupo de Ativistas em Tratamentos.

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