HIV/AIDS Politics and Policy in Europe
- Paul DeBellPaul DeBellDepartment of Political Science, Fort Lewis College
HIV/AIDS in Europe highlights the centrality of politics at local, state, and international levels to the successes and failures in fighting transnational, global threats. Though several European states have led the international struggle against HIV/AIDS and have made great strides in treatment and prevention, others host the fastest-growing epidemics in the world. Even in states with long histories of treatment, specific subpopulations, including many LGBTQ communities, face growing epidemics. This variation matches trends in public policy, the actions of political leaders, and social structures of inequity and marginalization toward affected populations. Where leaders stigmatize people living with HIV (PLHIV) and associated groups, the virus spreads as punitive policies place everyone at increased risk of infection. Thus, this epidemic links the health of the general public to the health of the most marginalized communities. Mounting evidence shows that a human rights approach to HIV/AIDS prevention involving universal treatment of all vulnerable communities is essential to combating the spread of the virus. This approach has taken hold in much of Europe, and many European states have worked together as a political force to shape a global human rights HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention regime.
Despite this leadership, challenges remain across the region. In some Eastern European states, tragic epidemics are spreading beyond vulnerable populations and rates of transmission continue to rise. The Russian case in particular shows how a punitive state response paired with the stigmatization of PLHIV can lead to a health crisis for the entire country. While scholars have shed light upon the strategies of political legitimization likely driving the scapegoating and stigmatization of PLHIV and related groups, there is an immediate need for greater research in transnational social mobilization to pressure for policies that combat these backward political steps. As financial austerity and defiant illiberalism spread across Europe, key values of universal treatment and inclusion have come into the crosshairs along with the European project more generally. Researchers and policymakers must therefore be vigilant as continued progress in the region is anything but certain. With biomedical advances and the advent of the “age of treatment,” widespread alleviation from the suffering of HIV/AIDS is a real possibility. Realizing this potential will, however, require addressing widespread political, social, and economic challenges. This in turn calls for continued interdisciplinary, intersectional research and advocacy.