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Uzbekistan Faces HIV Epidemic

April 22, 2002

The Uzbekistan Health Ministry said 549 HIV-infected people were officially registered in 2001 -- 2.3 times higher than all registrations during the previous 14 years. The total number of reported HIV cases in the country was estimated at 779 and of those, 39 people had died, including 15 who died from AIDS. Rudik Adamyan, an HIV/AIDS specialist working for the UN, said about 10,000 Uzbeks might be HIV-positive. "It is possible to expect development of the epidemic process in Uzbekistan," Adamyan said.

More than 60 percent of Uzbeks infected with HIV are believed to be intravenous drug users (IDUs). An examination of used syringes in Tashkent revealed 45.5 percent contained blood that was HIV-positive. Less than 1 percent of IDUs visit the nation's 200 needle exchange centers, according to the government's national strategic plan on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Adamyan said the total number of Uzbek drug users has reached 200,000. If HIV becomes prevalent in the IDU population, 40-60 percent of IDUs could contract HIV within two or three years.

The strategic plan reported a high incidence of prostitution, as women who migrate from rural towns and villages to large cities fail to find employment. Generally, Uzbekistan's prostitutes do not use condoms. Almost all Uzbek prostitutes have STDs, the report said, and up to 30 percent are also IDUs. The median age in Uzbekistan is 23.9 years; unsafe sex among youths is common; and some young men even consider an STD an example of sexual prowess. More than 50 percent of young people have little or no information about AIDS, said Adamyan. In 2000-2001, three children were born to HIV-positive women, and six children under 15 were infected by HIV, the plan reported.

Purchasing and storing illicit drugs are crimes in the country, as is homosexual activity. High-risk groups seek to hide from the authorities, or go to underground private doctors to treat STDs. "Expansion of HIV [is] determined by people's behavior and is beyond health measures," said Uzbekistan's strategic plan. Of the country's HIV-positive people, 56 percent are under age 30, 90 percent are male and about 46 percent are incarcerated, according to official data.

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Excerpted from:
United Press International
04.16.02; Marina Kozlova

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