World Aids Day 2011 in Montenegro – getting to zero

On 1 December 2011, World AIDS Day is being marked in all UN member states under the slogan Getting to Zero – Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths“. The Zero campaign will run until 2015 as a follow up on last year’s successful World AIDS Day “Light for Rights” initiative, encompassing a range of vital issues identified by key affected populations. New slogan represents very bold and visionary target to achieve in the upcoming period.

Montenegro’s strong commitment to the “Getting to Zero” campaign was underlined on a press conference organised jointly on behalf of the World AIDS Day by the Ministry of Health, UN System in Montenegro, Institute for Public Health and NGO CAZAS.

“One may say that ‘Getting to zero’ is too ambitious or even too idealistic goal, but no one has the right to oppose our aim and desire to live in the world without HIV, AIDS and discrimination”, said Minister of Health Miodrag Radunović, who comended commitment and efforts of the National AIDS Commission and the Government of Montenegro in regard to successful implementation of the National AIDS Strategy and overall achievements of the national response to HIV in Montenegro.

“These efforts gave measurable i evidence-based outcome, resulting in a number of national guides and protocols for HIV prevention and AIDS treatment, various actions on channeling information and services to target groups, and strengthening capacities of governmental institutions in the area of monitoring and evaluation”, Minister Radunović concluded.

Mina Brajović, Head of the WHO in Montenegro and Chair of the UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS described 2011 as a milestone year for the AIDS response, with unprecedented progress in science, political leadership and results. “In spite of the economic downturn that has stretched the AIDS response to its limits, millions of lives have been saved, as HIV treatment and prevention efforts continue to show results. The report also shows that new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths globally have fallen to the lowest levels since the peak of the epidemic”.

She warned, however, that HIV continues to rise in Europe stressing that epidemic is still not under control. “Current activities to reduce HIV infection rates are not enough to control and reverse the HIV epidemic in Europe. Above all, we need to address those who are most at risk, as they are often stigmatized and excluded from health and other social services, including HIV treatment”, said Ms. Brajović and highlighted importance of further cooperation between the National AIDS Commission and the UN System in Montenegro, aimed at building strong and sustainable health system. “This joint action is a key prerequisite for aiming to Zero new HIV infections, Zero stigma and discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths”, she concluded.

Since 1989 year, when the first case of epidemic was detected in Montenegro, 128 cases of HIV/AIDS have been registered with 34 AIDS related fatal cases, according to Boban Mugoša, Director of Institute for Public Health who presented epidemiological statistics in regard to HIV/AIDS epidemic in Montenegro.

“It is estimated, though, that around 388 people with HIV/AIDS live in our country, according to the WHO methodology. The prevalence rate is 0,01% and Montenegro has already achieved one Zero. However, we must work even harder in order to keep the tendency and epidemic under the control” said Mugoša and added that significant improvements have been achieved in regard to the second generation surveillance, HIV testing policy, access to antiretroviral therapy and blood safety.

Mišo Pejković, Executive Director of the NGO CAZAS, referred back to early days of tackling HIV/AIDS in Montenegro, in 1997. “When I recall those moments when only few of us volunteered to combat HIV and AIDS, I have to express true pleasure seeing what has been achieved since then”, said Pejković and informed about wide range of activities to be conducted by CAZAS on the occasion of WAD.

He also announced a condom usage campaign accompanied with the new video ad for promotion of condom usage, produced in cooperation with organization “The Books of Knjige”.