September 7, 2012
Eastern Europe and Central Asia are home to the world's fastest-growing HIV epidemic, due to punitive drug policies, discrimination, and insufficient access to medicines and treatment, according to global health experts.
World Health Organization data show the region had 170,000 new HIV infections last year. New infections there have risen 22 percent since 2005 and show no signs of slowing. Injecting drug use accounts for 70 percent of new cases.
Russia and Ukraine are widely viewed as the epidemic's epicenter. Opiate-substitution therapy (OST), a standard treatment provided to heroin users in much of the world, is illegal in Russia.
Although OST and needle-exchange programs have ostensible government support in the Ukraine, "Physical and other intimidation towards drug users is routine police practice," said an in-country spokesperson for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. Further, the group reports that the denial of antiretroviral treatment to infected drug users is a "common problem."
"In most post-Soviet countries, where HIV remains concentrated among injecting drug users, harsh policies and discrimination in health care settings continue to cripple the AIDS response," noted Daniel Wolfe, director of the International Harm Reduction Development Program at the Open Society Foundations.