Sunday

1st Aug 2021

Opinion

Romania risks HIV epidemic

Romania's Ministry of Health stands accused of abandoning those who are suffering from the HIV virus as the "anti-retroviral" medical supplies that have been keeping them alive for many years are about to run out. In addition, the needle exchange programme that has been supplying thousands of injecting drug users in Bucharest is about to end.

"We are extremely alarmed by information from Romania" wrote the EU HIV/Aids Civil Society Forum, an advisory body set up by the European Commission on 22 April, "the supply of anti-retroviral treatment for people living with HIV is not assured – with some patients having treatment interruption of over a month now, and patients living in rural areas travelling to the capital to queue up in front of the main hospital to obtain treatment."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Until recently, Romania had dealt with its HIV epidemic relatively well. One of the surprise discoveries that emerged after Romania's bloody 1989 revolution was the large number of children who had been infected with HIV by contaminated blood since 1986. Many of these children have been kept alive by the supply of antiretroviral drugs since the early 1990s – a success story that is about to come to a sorry end.

With budget cuts, unsustainable debts, striking nurses and uncontrolled corruption, Romania's health service is in a state of disintegration. Supplies of regular drugs are running out in many hospitals, surgeons have to cancel urgent operations due to shortages, and doctors are emigrating. Other EU member states (including Bulgaria) have prioritised the treatment of people with HIV. Not so in Romania, where the government even ignored help from Germany under the "Affordable Medicine Initiative" which would have led to a cut price supply of antiretroviral drugs.

"It it is very regrettable that Romania did not act upon the support offered by the affordable medicines initiative put forward by the German authorities based on the Bremen Declaration. Whatever the reasons and details that have led to this untenable situation in Romania, the current situation constitutes a clear breach not only of the national commitments but also of the European Convention of Human Rights Article 3.1," the advisors' letter reads.

Compounding the problem is the threatened closure of Bucharest's "needle exchange" programme, a service that supplies just under half of the city's injecting drug users with clean syringes, needles and other essential supplies. The programme is run by six Romanian NGOs and is co-ordinated by the Romanian Angel Appeal, an NGO set up after the 1989 revolution by Livia Harrison, ex-wife of the famous Beatle. An estimated 7,300 drug users – consisting mainly of sex workers, street children and vulnerable roma men and women – use the service, which has been remarkably successful at keeping HIV levels down. It is also very cost effective, costing just €2 per addict per month.

For many years, funding for the needle exchange programme came from the Global Fund for Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but this source will dry up at the end of June. According to Valentin Simionov, coordinator of Romania's Harm Reduction Network, "medical experts and donors have repeatedly warned Romanian authorities about the high risk of an HIV epidemic, but no measures for supporting these services has been initiated by central or local authorities."

Rupert Wolfe Murray is the central and east European representative of Castle Craig Hospital, a drugs rehab centre in Scotland.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Stakeholder

Ending HIV/AIDS: A tale of two Europes

World AIDS Day (Sunday 1 December) is both a time to celebrate the advancements across western Europe and a time for decisive action to address disparities in HIV care in eastern Europe and central Asia.

Stakeholder

40 years of AIDS is more than enough

Each week, in sub-Saharan Africa, 4,500 girls and young women aged 15-24 are infected with HIV. AIDS-related illness is among the leading causes of death among women of reproductive age globally.

Can Greece work with Biden to solve the West Balkans impasse?

Greece has always been Europe's outlier. It faces an implacably hostile neighbour in Turkey under its assertive authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Until Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, Greece had no European Union member state as a neighbour.

Why 'Fit for 55' isn't fit for purpose

In a worst-case scenario, the EU's climate policies would exclude developing nations from international trade, forcing them to trade with each other, forming economic and environmental 'ghettos' while the wealthy West enjoys the benefits of free trade and clean energy.

News in Brief

  1. Officials worried at infection-surge on Greek holiday islands
  2. EU calls on online platforms to tackle vaccine hesitancy
  3. Russia accused of falling short on Sputnik V deliveries
  4. France: UK quarantine rules 'discriminatory'
  5. Italy's government reaches deal on judicial reform
  6. EU adopts guidelines to 'climate-proof' infrastructure projects
  7. US backs WHO plan for further Covid-origin investigation
  8. EU to buy 220,000 supplies of potential Covid treatment

Column

Does democracy need troublemakers?

Comedians, businessmen and other outsiders – think of Edward Snowden, Slawi Trifonow (the TV star who won the Bulgarian elections recently), or Donald Trump – try to disrupt power, pretending to expose political elites. Why is this happening?

Ukraine - Zelensky's authoritarian turn?

President Volodymyr Zelensky has begun his third year mired in mid-term unpopularity with a poll showing only 21.8 percent of Ukrainians would vote to re-elect him. More than half would prefer him not even to run for a second term.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Malta responsible for journalist's death, inquiry finds
  2. Can Greece work with Biden to solve the West Balkans impasse?
  3. EU and UK frustrated at US travel ban extension
  4. Polish judges rally behind EU court ruling
  5. Why 'Fit for 55' isn't fit for purpose
  6. EU hits vaccination target, as Delta variant now dominates
  7. European arms 'displaced over a million people', research finds
  8. Brexit: what is the 'Lugano Convention' and does it matter?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us