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New Panos report calls for Latvia to target ‘at-risk’ groups in HIV/AIDS response

A new Panos report calls for a stronger and more targeted political commitment to combat HIV/AIDS in Latvia.

Based on research conducted by the Panos Institute in London, the report states that although the Latvian government’s official position since 1993 has been that controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS is one of the country’s health care priorities, there is a need for more focused prevention, treatment and care among the countries’ most ‘at-risk’ groups where HIV prevalence is highest: among injecting drug users (IDUs); men who have sex with men (MSM); and those buying and selling sex.

The research was based on interviews with at-risk groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government officials, and focused on questions about national HIV/AIDS commitment and action, the level of access to testing, treatment and care for at-risk groups, and levels of public awareness about HIV/AIDS.

The report – Keeping the Promise? A study of progress made in implementing the UNGASS Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS in Latvia – states that although there has been some attempt by the Latvian government, particularly the Ministry of Health, to involve both non-governmental organisations and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in the Latvian response to HIV/AIDS, this involvement has been limited, unsystematic and tokenistic.

Key points highlighted in the report include:

  • Given the state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Latvia and other problems the country faces, a response which targets vulnerable populations such as sex workers and injecting drug users is needed;
  • Funding NGOs that provide essential input and services is a priority. This would allow meaningful engagement of civil society groups in the national response to HIV/AIDS and encourage sustained action;
  • Although considerable progress has been made in establishing effective HIV prevention programmes, there are still major gaps. These include: providing comprehensive services to IDUs including raising the coverage of needle exchange programmes and ensuring that condoms are made available; and establishing effective prevention programmes for prisoners, sex workers and MSM;
  • A key barrier to be overcome in Latvia is the stigma and intolerance experienced by PLWHA and members of vulnerable groups;
  • IDUs should be approached from a health perspective, as people requiring care and support rather than automatic prosecution;
  • Access by prisoners to good quality substitution therapy should be improved to ensure that IDUs are better able to adhere to antiretroviral drug regimens; 

     

This report is one of seven separate country studies into the implementation of the UNGASS Declarations. Ronald Kayanja, Director of Panos’ Global AIDS Programme based in Lusaka, Zambia says,” Panos’ research indicates that there seems to be a widespread need for stronger political commitment to HIV/AIDS, with governments putting more resources into their national responses. In particular, there is an urgent need to provide comprehensive prevention, treatment, care and support services to vulnerable groups such as sex workers, men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users.”

– ENDS –

Notes to Editors:

The report is one of seven country studies conducted by Panos in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti, Malawi, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The Panos Global AIDS Programme is a network of offices from Africa, The Caribbean, South Asia and Europe, working together to increase participation, ownership and accountability in the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

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06/05/2006