Seanad Éireann - Volume 144 - 19 July, 1995

HIV-AIDS Conference: Motion.

Mr. Norris: I move:

That Seanad Éireann takes note of the final statement issued from the Conference of European parliamentarians concerning HIV/AIDS. held under the auspices of the European Public Health foundation in Barcelona on 19th-20th May, 1995.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for facilitating me and, in particular, for allowing me the opportunity to say a few words on this matter. I particularly want to place on the record the final declaration of the Barcelona conference of European parliamentarians on HIV-AIDS which was attended by Senator Henry and I at the invitation of Mary Banotti MEP.

The final declaration states:

The continuing spread of the HIV virus, its capacity to mutate and defeat even the most sophisticated medical treatment, its long latent period before it progresses in the vast majority of cases to AIDS, and its devastating effects on individuals and their families, as well as on whole economies, are factors which combine to present a formidable challenge to [1297] health care, social and preventive policies, medical science, and human solidarity within Europe and worldwide.

This conference of European Parliamentarians on HIV-AIDS has been convened in response to the resolution of the previous gathering in London in April 1993, which urged the Institutions of the European Union to assist in the creation of a Standing Conference with the object of extending the principle of inter-parliamentary co-operation both within the European Union and across the wider European region. We, who have come together here for this purpose, recognise and pay tribute to the crucial role of the European Commission in enabling this major advance in European collaboration to take place; we acknowledge likewise the constructive attitude of the European Parliament in welcoming ‘the notion of creating a standing conference of European Parliamentarians on HIV-AIDS’. We also welcome the participation of certain neighbouring states.

All of us present, who have participated in the Conference, being Members of Parliament, scientists, social scientists, medical professionals, public servants or voluntary sector workers in our respective countries, affirm our desire to create a co-operative association of European Parliamentarians committed to stemming the spread and turning back the tide of HIV infection in our own and other countries, to alleviating the condition of those affected and their families and to promoting parliamentary action and social and scientific research directed towards those ends. We also aim to develop networks for co-operation between the various zones of Europe and in particular the north and south.

Accordingly, we hereby resolve that the Standing Conference which we have inaugurated here in Barcelona should become a parliamentary network. We, as delegates to this conference, [1298] pledge ourselves both to recruit our fellow Parliamentarians individually, and to work towards the affiliation of the relevant committees or study groups in our parliaments. We wish to encourage Parliamentarians from countries not currently members of the European Union to join the new association with a view to extending it to cover all European countries. We propose that nongovernmental organisations working in the field and bodies representing people with HIV and AIDS should be eligible for associate membership. We call upon the European Institutions and National Parliamentarians to support us in this initiative.

We recommend that there should be a small permanent secretariat to service the association, and to perform all the necessary administrative tasks such as arrangement of meetings and seminars, the commissioning of studies and research, and the circulation of all relevant reports and documents to the full network and supporting bodies. We further propose that the Steering Committee for the current Conference should become the permanent Advisory Council, reflecting participation across Europe and including other Parliamentarians who wish to become more directly involved in the activities of this Pan-European Group.

More specifically, we request the European Public Health Foundation to make fresh proposals to the Commission, in accordance with the terms of their current contract, for further work to be carried out under the aegis of the Standing Conference in the following areas which we have identified here as important and which we believe need to be pursued as resources permit, namely:

—Exchange of information and good practice

—Improvement in networks of HIV surveillance

—Sex education

[1299] —Training issues of health and social care workers and volunteers

—Role of voluntary organisations

—Care and support of people with HIV-AIDS

—Medical and biological research

—Research into ways of alleviating the effects of the disease and minimising its impact on the quality of life of people with HIV-AIDS

—Psycho-social impact of HIV-AIDS

—Economic impact of HIV-AIDS

—Needs of developing countries

—HIV-AIDS legislation

We also recognise the need to give special attention to the following groups:

—intravenous drug users

—homosexual and bisexual men

—sex workers

—women and families

—mobile populations

—inmates of prisons

We recognise that a start can be made on some of the above topics by means of exploratory seminars as the beginning of the post-conference work. However, we are conscious that the completion of this work, including research and its dissemination as a guide to policy and good practice, will be dependent on continuing institutional support, which we hope can take the form of medium-term contracts to give the new association time to build on its experience, maximise its effectiveness and extend its scope.

Believing that much of value can be accomplished if resources are employed on well-designed studies, seminars, working parties, and dissemination of their results to members, we propose that the Standing Conference should not reconvene [1300] in plenary session for at least 18 months, unless urgently summoned by a majority of the members, with the approval of the funding institutions. Specific recommendations made by working parties during the conference will be recorded in the published report which will be sent to all delegates and made more widely available. However, the Parliamentarians present wish the following two additional recommendations to be recorded:

— that all methods of HIV prevention should be free of VAT, especially condoms

—that sex education in schools should commence before the start of sexual activity

We further recommend that work of a comparative nature with real European ‘added value’ should receive preferential consideration and that high priority for funding should be given to those projects which contribute most to our overriding aim, which is to reduce the rate of increase of HIV infection in Europe and set it on a downward path in the adult population by the year 2000. This aim should be treated as even more urgent in the case of young people becoming sexually active.

In attempting to advance these objectives we recognise the need for accurate surveillance to assess the impact of current policy. We urge the countries of the European Union to apportion, according to need, the amount of financial aid given to the regional areas within them, especially major urban areas. Such a policy should aim to support, in particular, the unique contribution that can be made by the voluntary sector.

We also support the view that to deal effectively with AIDS we must identify, reduce and prevent the profound forms of discrimination which diminish the capability of people to learn about and respond to HIV infection. Discrimination affects particular [1301] groups of people such as gay men, injecting drug users, cultural and linguistic minorities and people in prison. The issue of discriminatory practices in employment and in the provision of insurance should also be addressed. Additionally, we urge the European Parliament to include in the European Commission's proposed programmes on HIV-AIDS and drug harm minimisation action to address the ways in which legal, social and cultural discrimination facilitate the spread of HIV infection. Further, bearing in mind that prevalence of HIV is rising amongst heterosexuals, it is important to focus attention on the needs of affected women and children. In particular, it is essential to ensure that all women and children receive appropriate treatment, especially therapies that are now available to aid prevention of vertical transmission. More generally, home-based programmes should be developed to improve quality of life and to reduce the costs of unnecessary hospital care for all.

We urge, furthermore, that the knowledge and experience accumulated by this Standing Conference be applied to promoting dialogue with, and practical help to, other continents and cultures. We suggest that funds should be sought from multinational and bilateral aid programmes for initiatives aimed at containing, managing and abating the disease in Africa, Asia, South America and the countries of the former Warsaw Pact.

Finally, we pledge ourselves to keep these issues alive in our own parliaments and to urge their importance on our governments with a view to ensuring the best use of resources in care and treatment, the maximum efficacy of prevention and the necessary research base for continuing advance both in prophylaxis and towards cure.

We further believe that understanding of the social and cultural factors influencing the direction and extent of HIV-AIDS epidemics in [1302] different cultural settings is crucial to our efforts. We undertake to work and consult closely with people living with HIV and AIDS and to encourage support for...everything in our power to bring about medical, social and material improvements in the condition of people living with HIV and AIDS, and to halt and reduce the incidence of infection throughout the European region and, where possible, beyond.

The declaration was accepted by all the delegates. I wish to place on record my appreciation of the work of my colleague, Senator Henry, who, because of her association with the medical network, was able to contribute in a valuable sense.

I attended a post conference meeting, where the hard work was done after the conference concluded and it was chaired by Lord Kilmarnock. I suggested there should be a networking arrangement and information exchange between the different European Parliaments so that we could be aware of the different legislative approaches in all the areas mentioned in the document, such as discrimination. Having unwisely opened my mouth, I was asked to be on that committee but, unfortunately, I had to cancel my attendance last week because of illness. It will be an important body and I will be happy to report regularly either to the House or to whatever committee is deemed appropriate with regard to the different changes in the various legislative areas.

Another point is important to this country. Barcelona probably has the highest rate of HIV in Europe because of the enormous prevalence of intravenous drug abuse in the community in that area of Spain. They are also concerned about the sexual element. A woman, who I thought was quite conservative — she was certainly not a radical or a red revolutionary — spoke about sex education and made an extremely important point which Ireland would be well advised to take on board. She said that people talk [1303] about desensitising young people and introducing them to sexual information too early — before the onset of sexual feelings. However, as a result of an intensive research programme, the woman said that is precisely when one should introduce it.

She drew the analogy that on a road with a dangerous bend, one does not put up a hazard warning saying “Dangerous bend” when one's car has already gone over the edge. People should be warned of the dangers before they take the action which will expose them to critical risk. I thank the House for its indulgence.

Question put and agreed to.