UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé arrived in Warsaw, Poland, on 8 June for a day-long mission to meet with national stakeholders in the AIDS response and participate in the inauguration of UEFA Euro 2012, the European football championship.
The visit kicked off with a lively exchange at the National AIDS Centre between the UNAIDS Executive Director, civil society advocates, people living with HIV and government representatives. During the discussions, Mr Sidibé commended the government of Poland for providing free antiretroviral treatment to all who are eligible and for its success in keeping national HIV prevalence low.
He expressed concern, however, over the growing regional epidemic. An estimated 1.4 million people were living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in 2009, almost triple the number reported in 2000. In most countries across the region, the epidemic is concentrated among key populations, particularly people who inject drugs, sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Emphasizing that vulnerable populations benefit from only a fraction of HIV prevention resources, civil society representatives called on Mr Sidibé to advocate in his meetings with government officials for strategically targeted prevention investments. They underscored the need for better coordination among stakeholders in the national AIDS response - specifically among government ministries.
Mr Sidibé noted that Euro 2012 provides an excellent opportunity to highlight the HIV epidemic among a large audience. "Across Europe, football plays an important role in the lives of millions of individual fans, communities, and nations. UNAIDS is urging all players and fans to play safe and be safe - both on and off the pitch," said Mr Sidibé.
The UNAIDS Executive Director praised Poland's National AIDS Centre for launching "Fair Play" - an advocacy campaign, timed with Euro 2012, that focuses on HIV prevention. Through the campaign, football fans are encouraged to enjoy the games and protect themselves from HIV.
Poland is the current chair of UNAIDS' Programme Coordinating Board, the organization's governing body.