A United Nations backed international conference is set to tackle HIV and AIDS issues in May.

The first European and Central Asian AIDS Conference will take place in Moscow. The conference is expected to gather 500 participants, and provide a unique opportunity for policy makers, researchers, civil society representatives and people living with HIV from Eastern Europe and Central Asia to share experiences and establish new partnerships to address the particular characteristics of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region.

The conference, which is organised by the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumers Protection and Welfare in the Russian Federation, the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the International AIDS Society (IAS,) aims to strengthen and consolidate a large-scale response to HIV/AIDS in the region through enhanced high-level political commitment and leadership, technical capacity building as well as partnerships with people living with HIV and civil society.

An estimated 1.6 million people in the region are living with HIV in 2005 – a nearly twenty-fold increase in less than ten years.

The theme of the conference is Facing the Challenge, underlining that countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have an unprecedented opportunity to reverse the epidemic by scaling up efforts for prevention, care, treatment and support.

The conference will precede and help set the stage for three major global events which organisers feel will determine the future of the international response to HIV/AIDS: the June 2006 UN General Assembly review of the Declaration of Commitment Against AIDS, the July 2006 G8 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia which will include a focus on infectious diseases; and the 16th International AIDS Conference in August 2006 in Toronto.

Partnership, prevention and treatment are the main themes to be discussed during the conference. Organisers hope the conference will provide a unique and timely opportunity for organisations and individuals from across the region to share experiences and develop common approaches to the fight against HIV/AIDS at a time when the course of the epidemic can still be reversed.