Feature story

Four Albanian cities commit to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030

19 June 2024

Four Albanian cities—Kolonja, Durrës, Pogradec, and Shkodra—have signed the Paris Declaration on AIDS committing to ending AIDS as a public health threatby 2030. By signing the declaration, the Mayors committed to achieving the 95-95-95 targets by 2025 and called on other municipalities in Albania, including the capital Tirana, to join this effort. 

The Albanian cities are the latest additions to the list of more than 550 other cities around the world that are part of the Fast-Track Cities initiative which aims to fast-track action at local level to improve the quality of life of people living with and affected by HIV. 

In order to fulfill their commitments, the cities have developed different plans of action based on their local circumstances. For instance, the Municipality of Durrës plans to increase investments in methadone maintenance therapy, aiming to expand the number of people benefiting from such services by 10% each year.  

The Municipalities of Pogradec and Kolonja are focused on raising awareness among migrant populations to increase HIV testing rates in these regions. As border cities with a significant male population migrating for work, ensuring these communities are well-informed and have access to necessary health services is crucial.  

Finally, the Municipality of Shkoder aims to foster a partnership with Podgorica in Montenegro to exchange experiences and best practices in developing the "Healthy Houses" model, which has been successful in the neighboring country. The "Healthy Houses" initiative is a free social service providing psychosocial support to citizens. It focuses on improving the quality of life, reducing risks, and offering support to socially vulnerable groups. The service addresses a range of issues, including HIV, domestic violence, addiction, services for LGBTQ+ peopleand others.  

Olimbi Hoxhaj, Executive Director of the Albanian Association of People Living with HIV, hopes that signing the Declaration and the follow-up actions will not only help prevent new HIV infectionsbut will also significantly reduce AIDS-related mortality.  

Albania has a low HIV-prevalence epidemic but faces an increasing number of new HIV cases. From 1993 to 2023, 1,716 cases were diagnosed, with 113 new cases in 2023 alone. Most HIV testing occurs in the late stages of infection (about 60% of new cases), meaning official figures do not fully represent the actual infection rate. 

The Minister of Health and Social Protection of Albania, Ogerta Manastirliu, emphasized that rapid diagnosis and treatment are key. “The whole fight in this aspect is timely diagnosis so that the treatment can start as soon as possible, and the infection is under control.” 

“While the European region continues to face political, economic, and healthcare challenges due to regional conflicts, migration, and other complexities, it is important to secure commitment from municipalities to advance progress towards the crucial HIV targets,” said Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS Regional Director for Asia-Pacific and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. 

Technical assistance to all municipalities in developing their local programs was provided through the cooperation between the International Association of AIDS Care Providers (IAPAC), the Fast-Track Cities Institute (FTCI), UNAIDS and the Global Fund’s regional #SoS 2.0 project, which aims to ensure the sustainability of HIV services in 15 countries in Eastern Europe. "Since 2019, with our support, 21 municipalities from Southeast Europe have joined the Fast-Track Cities initiative," said Tetiana Deshko, Director of the International Programs Department at the Alliance for Public Health.