The American, British and Finnish ambassadors to Estonia urge the parliament to do more about the spread of HIV in the country, saying the situation of the epidemic is “gravely concerning”.
The US ambassador, James D Melville, Jr, the British ambassador, Chris Holtby, and the Finnish ambassador, Kristi Narinen, have written an open letter to the Estonian parliament, saying that the HIV situation in Estonia, which is classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an epidemic, poses risks and challenges to “every Estonian resident, their partners and friends in the international community. Tourists are obviously a particular risk group.”
While the ambassadors admit that much work has been done by the WHO and Estonian doctors and politicians, and that Estonia has all the tools – the people and the organisations to take HIV prevention to the next level – “increased leadership at a legislative level would ensure that the challenges are addressed systematically and openly”.
Ambassadors Melville, Holtby and Narinen also welcome the Estonian parliament’s decision to nominate a special commission to deal with the HIV epidemic in the country. “Having a special commission to oversee and coordinate projects and programmes on HIV/AIDS prevention has many benefits including coordination which would guarantee that any resources whether from Estonian government or international support, would be used in the most efficient manner, the undersigned write. “A Special Commission would also send a strong political message that combating the HIV epidemic is a priority for this country; for the medical and social services, the Riigikogu and the government. Public acknowledgement is in itself one of the most important steps which can be taken to tackle the disease.”
The ambassadors also emphasise that their respective governments will continue to work hard on helping Estonia with the situation “by undertaking and supporting projects and raising public awareness”.
According to the Estonian Health Board, by 5 February, the doctors have already diagnosed 18 new HIV cases in 2016. Altogether, from 1988 onwards, 9,281 people in Estonia have been diagnosed with HIV. Estonia has currently the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Europe.
Cover: HIV virus in bloodstream (by Sebastian Kaulitzki, Shutterstock.com)