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Expert at IAS Conference Warns That Heroin Use Contributing to Spread of HIV in Eurasia

July 26, 2005

HIV is spreading among heroin users who live along drug trafficking routes leading out of Afghanistan and through other Eurasian countries, a researcher warned Monday at the 3rd IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. The number of HIV cases is rising in Belarus, Iran, Moldavia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and other countries along the drug trafficking route from Afghanistan to Eastern Europe, Christopher Beyrer, an associate professor of epidemiology and international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said (Astor, AP/Yahoo! News, 7/25). Beyrer said that 26 countries -- most of them in Asia -- that previously experienced declines in the number of new HIV/AIDS cases are facing a resurgence of the disease. Poor prevention methods and substandard treatment in Central Asia and the former Soviet republics are fueling the spread of the virus, and the situation could set back the global fight, Beyrer said (Xinhuanet, 7/26). He noted that only about 10% of drug users in the region have access to clean needles and drug-substitution therapy, such as methadone (AP/Yahoo! News, 7/25). Methadone allows injection drug users to avoid needles, as the drug is administered orally, and function normally because it satiates their desire for heroin. The World Health Organization recently endorsed the integration of methadone therapy into national HIV/AIDS treatment programs. Beyrer urged Russia and neighboring countries to lift their ban on the use of such opiates to treat injection drug users. "Methadone is essentially an AIDS prevention tool," he said (Khalip, Reuters AlertNet, 7/26).

Lewis Says G8 Summit a "Disappointment"
U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis said during his opening speech at the conference that the recent meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Gleneagles, Scotland, was "not a breakthrough" in the global fight against HIV/AIDS but was "in fact a disappointment." Although the agreement on debt cancellation for 18 countries, including 14 in Africa, is a positive step, Africa still is struggling with the "insurmountable burden" of more than $200 billion in debt, which is hampering the fight against HIV/AIDS and poverty, Lewis said. "I would argue that we got caught up in music and the spectacle and the spin and the celebrities, and we applauded before applause was justified," he said (AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/25).

Rare HIV Strain Contained
Fears that a highly drug-resistant HIV strain detected in a New York City man earlier this year could become widespread are now believed to be unfounded because of the discovery of the apparent source of the virus, according to information presented Monday at the conference, Reuters Health reports (Harby, Reuters Health, 7/25). Officials from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Feb. 11 announced they had detected the HIV strain, which is resistant to most antiretroviral drugs and possibly caused a rapid onset of AIDS in one patient. The city health department issued an alert to physicians, hospitals and medical providers asking them to test all HIV-positive patients for evidence of the strain. The strain's combination of drug resistance and rapid progression to AIDS had not been identified before (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/16). The person who likely transmitted the virus to the New York patient, who is a resident of Connecticut, is experiencing disease progression characteristic of other HIV-positive patients who have similar behavior and compliance, according to Gary Blick, medical and research director of Circle Medical in Norwalk, Conn. The New York and Connecticut patients have visually identified each other and confirmed that they engaged in anal intercourse. Glick said the rapid disease progression and treatment resistance experienced by the New York patient could be a result of an extremely active sexual lifestyle and heavy use of crystal methamphetamine (Reuters Health, 7/25). Webcasting Key Sessions
In partnership with IAS, is the official webcaster of the 3rd IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment. will provide daily webcasts of sessions and press conferences, as well as interviews with newsmakers, which are available to download for podcasting. The webcasts and interviews are available at no cost and without registration. Additional information about viewing webcasts and signing up for a daily e-mail update is available online, and organizations are welcome to link to's conference coverage from their Web sites. Webcasts of Monday's sessions are now available online, including a plenary on the global response, the official conference press briefing, a forum on what it will take to control the epidemic, and a debate and satellite symposium on vaccines. You can also view a newsmaker interview with Octavio Valente, president of Brazil's Grupo Pela Vidda and chair of the Conference Community Advisory Board. Webcasts of Tuesday's sessions -- including the release of a new study on circumcision -- will be a available later today.

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