Increasing Drug Use May Lead to ‘Explosion’ of AIDS Cases in Former Soviet Bloc
The growing trade of heroin and opium from Asia to Europe and the resulting drug use may cause an "explosive growth" in AIDS cases in five Central Asian countries, the New York Times reports. The countries -- Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan -- all former republics of the Soviet Union, are experiencing a "rapid increase" in drug use, "widespread prostitution" and "high levels" of sexually transmitted diseases, prompting the United Nations in June to conclude that there was a "basis for more people getting AIDS" in the five countries. Although the official numbers of HIV/AIDS cases in the countries are "relatively low," public health experts believe that the figures are underreported. In Kazakhstan, for example, the government reports that 1,700 people have HIV/AIDS, while U.N. estimates put the number at 3,500, and "unofficial estimates" put the figure as high as 10,000. The Times reports that the potential for an AIDS epidemic in the region began in 1991, when the collapse of the Soviet Union caused economic and social problems that "swept across the region like a medieval plague." Jay Dobkin, director of the AIDS program at New York-based Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, said, "There is a growing drug trade, declining standard of living and social chaos. It's hard to know if there is going to be an explosion, but it's smarter not to wait and see."
Lack of Treatment Options
An AIDS "crisis" in the region could "overwhelm medical resources," particularly in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the "most fragile and poorest countries" in the area, the Times reports. In addition to a lack of resources, the countries are "hobbled by taboos" and "authoritarian bureaucracies," which have been "slow" to provide AIDS eduction and combat the drug problem. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, the government has appropriated only $26,500 for AIDS prevention and education programs and has "almost" no treatment centers. Dr. Valeriya Gourevich, who runs a public health clinic in Kazakhstan, said that the "risk" of contracting HIV in the area is "high" because "deeply rooted attitudes" prevent appropriate education. She added that parents "rarely" talk about sex with their children. The Times reports that most HIV/AIDS cases are discovered when drug users or prostitutes are arrested and tested (Frantz, New York Times, 8/5).