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International News

World Health Organization Warns of Rapid Spread of AIDS in Afghanistan

June 12, 2002

High levels of intravenous drug use and unsafe blood transfusions in Afghanistan could lead to a rapid spread of HIV, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Sunday. WHO is funding the first national survey to investigate the levels of HIV/AIDS in the country, while a new nationwide strategy to combat the disease is being drawn up, said WHO spokesperson Loretta Hieber Girardet. Heroin and opium abuse in the country -- one of the world's largest producers of opium -- are aggravating the situation, she said. Girardet highlighted the fact that neighboring Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China have all reported outbreaks of HIV among intravenous drug users.

Nearly 1 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan this year, and Girardet warned that refugees were particularly vulnerable to infection. They were more likely to be subject to "sexual abuse, violence and lack of access to information and education," she said.

Poor medical facilities could also contribute to the spread of the disease. "An estimated half of the country's 44 hospitals that perform surgery do not systematically test the blood for HIV before transfusions," said Girardet. "Although WHO and other agencies are working to provide laboratory equipment and training to hospital staff, the safety of blood transfusions cannot yet be guaranteed in Afghanistan."

WHO will also take part in a joint working group with the Afghan health ministry to draw up a strategy to control the spread of the disease. It will likely include a major education program and tighter controls in hospitals. "Experience has shown that in many war-affected countries HIV can rise within a very short space of time," said Girardet.

Back to other CDC news for June 12, 2002

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Adapted from:
Agence France Presse

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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