Estonia, Russia, Ukraine Have Highest Growth Rates for New HIV Cases in Eastern Europe, CIS, UNDP Report on AIDS Says
Estonia, Russia and Ukraine are facing increasing growth rates in new HIV infections that are among the highest in the world, according to a new report released Tuesday by the United Nations Development Programme, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports (Ingram, AP/Contra Costa Times, 2/18). The report, titled "Reversing the Epidemic: Facts and Policy Options," examines the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 28 countries that compose Eastern Europe, the Baltics and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The report offers country HIV/AIDS profiles, including information on high-risk groups (UNDP bulletin, 2/17). According to the 117-page report, one out of every 100 adults in a city in Eastern Europe or the CIS is HIV-positive (AFP/Yahoo! News, 2/17). Currently, Russia has 257,000 reported HIV cases, although Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Russian Health Ministry's AIDS Prevention and Treatment Center, has said that the actual number could be between 700,000 and 1.5 million. Ukraine has recorded 68,000 HIV cases, but officials estimate that the number could be 500,000, and Estonia has registered 3,621 HIV-positive people. However, Estonian Social Welfare Ministry spokesperson Katrin Pargmae said that unofficial estimates are almost double the reported figure (AP/Contra Costa Times, 2/18). The report says that economic growth for each of the countries in the region soon could be reduced by 1% of gross domestic production, which would be a "tremendous impact for any country" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 2/17). In addition, the epidemic has increased the countries' health spending from 1% to 3% of their gross domestic products (AP/Contra Costa Times, 2/18).
According to the report, Russia's GDP loss by 2020 could exceed 10%, with "significan[t]" impact on the country's natural resource mining industry, which is the country's main source of income, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. The industry relies on migrant labor, which "[i]nternational experience suggests ... face[s] relatively high HIV risks," according to the report (AFP/Yahoo! News, 2/17). The report indicates that the HIV/AIDS epidemic "will accelerate Russia's already dramatic population decline," with at least nine million people projected to die from AIDS-related complications by 2045 (Baker, Washington Post, 2/18). Shombi Sharp, UNDP assistant regional representative and co-author of the report, said, "It is too late to avoid a crisis in terms of human cost, and the economic costs will definitely be significant. But Russia still has the opportunity, through effective responses, to avoid the kind of macroeconomic impact that has been experienced in other parts of the world." UNDP Director Mark Malloch Brown said that Russia is "hitting the tripwire of 1% infection rate among adults, at which there's a high likelihood of acceleration of the disease" (Walters, Moscow Times, 2/18). Marcia Kran of the UNDP regional office in Bratislava, Slovakia, said, "Experience throughout the world shows that 1% as an infection rate is a threshold. Beyond 1%, efforts to turn back the epidemic have failed in many other countries" (BBC News, 2/17).
Human Rights, Prisons
The report says that human rights are an "essential ingredient" for combating the epidemic and mentions decriminalizing injection drug use and reforming prisons (UNDP bulletin, 2/17). For example, in Russia the "most prominent" groups affected by HIV/AIDS have been injection drug users and prisoners, the Moscow Times reports. But the report calls for governments to develop new methods for addressing the epidemic. "Russia is much too fond of big institutions -- particularly prisons -- for solving social problems," Malloch Brown said, adding, "Democracy is not a prophylactic, but lack of attention to human rights is a problem" (Moscow Times, 2/18). "There has to be strong political leadership time after time to warn Russians that [HIV/AIDS] is a threat," he added (Miles, Reuters, 2/17). Kalman Mizsei, UNDP assistant administrator for Europe and the CIS, said, "It is already too late to speak of avoiding a crisis. Nevertheless, there is still much that governments and civil societies can do to reduce the social, demographic and economic consequences of HIV/AIDS and even reverse the epidemic" (AP/Contra Costa Times, 2/18).