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International News

Human Rights Abuses Boosting Number of AIDS Cases in Eastern Europe, Experts Say

July 1, 2003

Government mistreatment of drug users and others vulnerable to HIV is contributing to the spread of AIDS across Central and Eastern Europe, human rights advocates said Monday. Repressive drug laws, as well as abuses by law enforcement and public health authorities, are barriers to ensuring addicts have access to needle exchange programs, voluntary AIDS tests and condom distribution among prostitutes, the advocates said. "This has resulted in the fastest growing HIV infection rate in the world," said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of the Open Society Institute's International Harm Reduction Development Program.

According to a 2002 study by the Central and Eastern European Harm Reduction Network based in Vilnius, Lithuania, intravenous drug users represented 93 percent of the 197,500 registered HIV/AIDS cases in Russia, a country with an estimated 4 million drug addicts.

Drug laws in countries such as Poland or Hungary -- among the 10 nations expected to join the European Union in 2004 -- were "not necessarily much better" than those in some of the former members of the Soviet Union in giving drug users a chance to receive treatment, said Malinowska-Sempruch.

"Drug use is a medical problem, but these countries think the police rather than public health authorities should deal with it," said Joanne Csete of the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch.

The experts, participants in a Budapest conference on harm reduction and AIDS in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, said the stigmatization of drug users in society and under the law often prevents them from seeking treatment, further fueling the spread of AIDS.

Among the policies criticized by the experts were Russia's ban on treatment of drug users outside state-sanctioned institutions and its practice of screening all prison inmates for AIDS.

Back to other CDC news for July 1, 2003

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Adapted from:
Associated Press

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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.
See Also
More on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe