The Minister of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski replied to the interpellation concerning the HIV epidemic in Estonia (No. 164), submitted by members of the Riigikogu Monika Haukanõmm, Andres Ammas, Jüri Adams, Külliki Kübarsepp, Ain Lutsepp, Artur Talvik, Andres Herkel and Krista Aru on 23 February 2016.
The interpellators indicated that the number of new HIV cases reported in Estonia was among the highest in the EU and raised the point that, for example, 325 newly-diagnosed HIV cases had been reported in Estonia in 2013. While, comparatively, in Finland, the number had been 157. Given the population sizes of the two countries, this means that the incidence of HIV is 8.5 times higher in Estonia than in Finland. The interpellators called the situation a large-scale epidemic.
Ossinovski admitted that the problem with HIV was a serious and persisting one. ‘We must acknowledge that we have not done enough to find a solution to this problem. It is degrading and unfair to the thousands living with HIV; it is definitely irresponsible to the hundreds infected each year, and it is clearly a badge of shame on Estonia in the international arena,’ said the Minister.
Ossinovski reiterated that this was an issue of very high priority to him as a minister, and that the Ministry of Social Affairs intends to direct considerably more attention to the problem over the coming years.
The interpellators were eager to know how much is being spent on the prevention and treatment of HIV from Estonia’s own resources and how much comes from the EU Funds. They also asked the Minister to assess whether the funding has been sufficient and how the funding was planned to be increased.
Ossinovski admitted that the funding in this area was definitely insufficient, and that the geographical availability as well as the quality and volume of services needed to be improved.
According to him, the areas that require additional funding in the years ahead are, for example, out-patient opioid replacement therapy, methadone maintenance therapy, integrated opioid replacement and antiretroviral therapy – the latter is currently offered only by the West Tallinn Central Hospital. However, the Ida-Viru Central Hospital will also launch the service this year. Moreover, there are plans to improve the geographic availability of needle exchange, and HIV testing service locations.
When replying to the interpellation, Ossinovski said that public spending on HIV prevention and treatment has increased over years. He gave, as an example, the fact that total spending on HIV prevention and treatment in 2007 had been 10.3 million euros, 3 million euros of which had been spent on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. In 2015, nearly 14 million euros had been spent, 10 million of which had been spent on medicinal products. The Minister specified that EU structural funding had been rather marginal (40,000 euros) in 2015 as compared with 308,000 euros in 2011.
Currently, between 10 and 12 million euros of state budget funds are spent on ensuring ARV medicines. As by the end of 2015, ARV treatment was available to 3,494 HIV positive patients, i.e., 38% of all individuals diagnosed as infected with HIV.
When talking about newly-diagnosed cases of HIV, Ossinovski noted that 270 new cases had been diagnosed in 2015. According to him, this was nearly five times less than in 2001 when 1,474 new cases had been reported.
In response to the question about the success of preventive projects concerning HIV, Ossinovski explained that, according to a survey conducted in 2015, awareness of various HIV testing capabilities has improved significantly among young people (14–29 years old) in Estonia, and the number of young people tested for HIV has increased, in particular in the age group of 19–29. According to him, the data show that the number of young people tested for HIV almost doubled in 2015 when compared with 2010.
The Minister of Health and Labour also replied to interpellations concerning the provision of health services in general educational schools (No. 153) and paternity leave (No. 194).
The Minister of Culture Indrek Saar replied to the interpellation concerning Estonian language courses (No 186). The interpellations addressed to the Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kristen Michal concerned winter maintenance of national roads (No. 148), disregard to the Public Transport Act (No. 149) and mass wood burning for heat (No. 167).
The Minister of the Interior Hanno Pevkur replied to interpellations concerning the purchase of land in border areas in south-eastern Estonia (No. 171), early award of police officer’s service rank (No. 172) and restructuring of the Rescue Board (No. 174).
On a proposal from the Economic Affairs Committee, the first reading of the Bill on Amendments to the District Heating Act and the Apartment Ownership and Apartment Associations Act (176 SE), initiated by the Estonian Centre Party Faction, was excluded from the agenda for the working week.
The sitting ended at 8.25 p.m.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
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