Youth in European Union ‘Lack Knowledge’ About HIV/AIDS, European Health Official Says
HIV/AIDS has become a "forgotten disease" among young people in the European Union, Markos Kyprianou, the European commissioner for public health, said on Wednesday in an address to members of the European Parliament, Inter Press Service reports.
Kyprianou said that visiting a school to mark World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 was an "eye-opener" for him, adding that students he met "know that using condoms is the best protection," but "they are too embarrassed or too shy" to buy them. He also said that opinion polls have found a "lack of knowledge" among youth about the disease. Some youth have reported that they are unaware of how HIV is transmitted, that they believe they are not at risk of contracting HIV or that the disease can be acquired through touching, sharing a glass with or kissing someone who is HIV-positive.
According to Inter Press Service, the latest United Nations data indicate that at least 760,000 E.U. residents are living with HIV. The European Union recorded nearly 27,000 new cases of HIV in 2005. Although the European Commission has called for HIV/AIDS to be a top priority among member countries, the body lacks the authority to take full action, Kyprianou said. British Member of European Parliament John Bowis said, "The level of basic knowledge (within Europe) has been going down over [the] last five years, while the myths and misunderstandings have been rising." He added, "One in five don't know that [HIV] can be transmitted through sex without a condom."
Italian MEP Vittorio Agnoletto said he expected the European Commission to release "much more concrete and pragmatic proposals" to address HIV/AIDS than those it has made to date, Inter Press Service reports. He said E.U. officials should advocate for mandatory sex education in schools, and he voiced concerns about how intellectual property rights on antiretroviral drugs are limiting drug access in developing countries. Pierre Schapira, a French Socialist, said that increasing access to antiretrovirals is essential to controlling the disease and preventing drug resistance. He added that there should not be provisions inserted into future trade agreements that would restrict countries' ability to waive patents on drugs when they need to address a public health issue.
According to Inter Press Service, MEPs from the Socialist Group also have asked that the varying tax rates on condoms across Europe be addressed when the European Union's value added tax system is reviewed next year. Socialist Group members have said that no more than the legal minimum of 5% be charged (Cronin, Inter Press Service, 12/12). Social Group members last month in Brussels launched a campaign on the social networking Web site Facebook to cut tax rates on condoms in an effort to curb increasing HIV/AIDS rates in Europe. In the European Union, VAT rates vary. Ireland has a 21% VAT rate on condoms, which is the highest in the European Union. The United Kingdom last year reduced VAT on condoms from 17.5% to 5% (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/12).