November 24, 2004
In two years, Eastern Europe and Central Asia have experienced a 40 percent jump in HIV/AIDS cases, mostly among the young, UNAIDS and World Health Organization reported Tuesday ahead of World AIDS Day. By the end of this year, the former Soviet Union will have 1.4 million HIV/AIDS infections, up from 1 million in 2002. Four out of every five infections there occurred among those under age 30, compared to Western Europe, where less than one in three infected are under 30, the UN's annual "AIDS Epidemic Update" stated.
"Most of the epidemics in this region are still in their early stages, which means that timely, effective intervention can halt and reverse them," said the report. It urged prevention efforts to focus on drug users, sex workers and pregnant HIV-positive women.
Some 70 percent of known HIV cases in the former Soviet Union are in Russia, fueled mostly by needle sharing among intravenous drug users. Unprotected sex could spread HIV more broadly, spilling out of the 10 most affected regions -- nine of which are in western Russia. In the Ukraine, around one-third of new infections are heterosexually acquired; four out of 10 infected are women, most under age 25. In Russia, 9,000 babies were recorded as HIV-positive in 2003. "In the absence of effective prevention efforts, serious HIV outbreaks could follow in the rest of the country," warned the report.
Prevention programs in some Ukrainian cities have successfully reduced maternal HIV transmission rates from 27 percent in 2001 to 12 percent last year. In the Baltic states, HIV prevalence remains low though transmission rates are high, similar to epidemics in the Central Asian and Caucasian republics, where the adult infection rate is less than 0.3 percent. Region-wide, the report noted routine stigma and discrimination against gays, among whom unprotected sex is commonplace.