The Government has prioritised HIV-AIDS on the development agenda for Ireland's Presidency of the European Union. Development Co-operation Ireland and the Department of Health and Children will co-host a ministerial conference, Breaking the Barriers — Partnership for an Effective Response to HIV-AIDS in Europe and Central Asia, in Dublin Castle on 23-24 February. The conference is being organised in co-operation with UNAIDS, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the European Commission.
The conference takes place against the background of a continuing rise in HIV-AIDS prevalence rates across the European and central Asia region. In some countries, the increase in prevalence rates has reached a level which poses an immediate and critical challenge for governments. The conference will probably be the biggest event based in Ireland during the Presidency. It will be opened by the Taoiseach and will be addressed,inter alia, by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Health and Children and me. It will focus on four key areas: the need for stronger dialogue and co-operation at regional level; the appropriate role of governments, civil society and the private sector; preventing the spread of HIV-AIDS, particularly among young people; and the challenges now facing people living with AIDS, including access to care and treatment. It is anticipated that the conference will adopt a declaration which will provide a basis for strengthened co-operation across the region in respect of the HIV-AIDS issue.
Ministers from 55 member countries of the UN Economic Commission for Europe have been invited to the conference. High-level representatives from UNAIDS, UNICEF, the WHO and the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the Economic Commission for Europe will also be present. We have already received confirmation of attendance from many countries and organisations, including the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Pat Cox, EU Commissioner David Byrne, the President of Portugal, the executive director of UNAIDS, the director general of the WHO, the executive director of UNICEF and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A large number of representatives from NGO networks throughout Europe and central Asia have also confirmed their attendance, including young people and people living with HIV.
The conference will provide a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the threat posed by HIV-AIDS to the European and central Asia region and to mobilise political commitment to the struggle against it. It will foster new forms of co-operation and partnership in addressing this threat. The Government will continue to advocate an accelerated global response to HIV-AIDS and will maintain this key development challenge high on its agenda.