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Former USSR: Report Warns About Spread Of AIDS

By Beth Pugh

Washington, 29 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - A newly-released report warns that a recent rise in the number of sexually transmitted diseases among the former Soviet republics may indicate that rapid spread of HIV infection and AIDS cases is imminent.

The report, entitled "The State of World Population," is produced annually by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The topic of this year's report is reproductive rights and reproductive health.

The report aims to increase global awareness of reproductive rights as an integral part of human rights. Quality health care, the report says, would spare millions of women each year from death and suffering arising from pregnancy complications and sexually transmitted diseases.

According to the report, the AIDS-causing HIV virus is spreading quickly among Russian women. HIV-infected men in Russia currently outnumber women by only two to one -- the ratio was six-to-one two years ago.

The report says HIV infection has spread to communities and countries of the former Soviet Union that were hardly affected by the epidemic several years ago. It says persons infected with HIV in the Russian city of Kaliningrad increased 18 times since 1994. Additionally, in the Ukrainian city of Nikolayev, the rate of HIV infection among drug users rose from 1.7 percent to 56 percent last year.

Although the recent rise in reported cases of HIV infection in the former Soviet republics has been most predominant among injecting drug users, the report says the disease is likely to spread to non-drug users. It explains that sharp rises in rates of sexually transmitted disease indicates a rise in unsafe sex -- a leading cause of the spread of HIV-infection and AIDS.

The U.N. report says sexually transmitted diseases most frequently infect young people between the ages of 15 to 24. It says 50 percent of HIV infections worldwide are in people of this age group.

Young women face the highest risk of HIV infection through heterosexual contact, the report says. It says sexually transmitted diseases have a greater impact on women, as well, because they cause pregnancy-related complications, premature birth, and stillbirth.

The report also says that pregnancy-related deaths arising from poor health care remains a critical problem throughout the world. The rate of pregnancy-related deaths varies widely throughout Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Central Asia.

The Czech Republic's maternal mortality rate nearly matches those of Western European countries, which are among the lowest rates in the world. However, the report indicates that the maternal mortality rates in Kyrgyzstan and in Romania are more than nine times higher than that of Western Europe.

The report also says the rate of deaths from unsafe abortion in the former Soviet Union is five times the rate in Western Europe. However, it says the rate of deaths in Asia, including China, is 400 times the rate of Western Europe.

The report assesses many countries' responses to an international conference on population and development sponsored by the United Nations in 1994. The conference formulated goals for improving the lives and health of poor women and families worldwide.

According to the report, women's organizations in Russia have worked to promote legislation that encompasses goals for health care and reproductive rights.

Additionally, the members of Economic Cooperation Organization (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) met in Kazakhstan to facilitate the implementation of many of the conference's goals for reproductive health.