Eastern Europe Could Experience ‘Horrific’ AIDS Epidemic as Disease Shifts to General Population
Fueled by the rise in intravenous drug use, the AIDS epidemic in Eastern Europe is a "bomb waiting to explode," as the disease appears to now be moving into the general population, Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of International Harm Reduction Development, a branch of the Open Society Institute, stated during Tuesday's session of the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/11). HIV infections, fueled by "[e]conomic despair, social dislocation and easy access to heroin and other opiates," have been doubling every year for the past three years in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet nations, Malinowska-Sempruch said (Boseley, Guardian, 7/10). It is estimated that 1% of the population of the former Soviet Union uses injection drugs, and more than 90% of HIV infections in Moscow have been linked to IV drug use.
The region's HIV/AIDS epidemic is now spreading from injection drug users into the general population. In Ukraine, for example, rates of HIV infection among pregnant women are rising, suggesting that heterosexual transmission is also on the rise (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/11). Researchers from the Russian Association for Sexually Transmitted Infection Prevention have noted similar increases in HIV infection among sex workers (Reuters, 7/11). A survey conducted by the Russian agency and the CDC also found an increase in "risky" sexual behavior and STDs among 400 homeless women in Moscow (Schoofs, Wall Street Journal, 7/11).
Call for Action
"High prices of medication and low levels of public commitment are fueling [the region's] HIV crisis," Emilis Subata, the institute's Lithuanian coordinator, said. A recent survey of 27 Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics found that fewer than 1% of HIV-positive individuals in the region receive combination antiretroviral therapy, as recommended by the World Health Organization. Subata noted that the region has "already overtaken North America in numbers of people with HIV," and warned that Eastern Europe "may become another Africa" if action is not taken "soon"(Guardian, 7/10). Malinowska-Sempruch also urged the international community to offer assistance to help stem the tide of the epidemic in the region, concluding, "If the world is unable or unwilling to turn its attention to this region and offer help ... the consequences will be horrific" (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/11).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Monday reported on the epidemic in Russia. The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio online (Sheets, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/8). NPR coverage of the conference is archived online.