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East: Report Says HIV Spreading Rapidly In Eastern Europe, Central Asia

  • Andrew Tully

A new study on HIV/AIDS says the disease is spreading alarmingly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully reports that the study will be presented today at the annual spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Washington, 17 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The leading advisory panel for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will meet in Washington today to discuss a grim report about AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The document, "Intensifying Action Against HIV/AIDS: Responding to a Development Crisis," indicates that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is spreading rapidly. It says half the people living in the region who have HIV were infected within the past two years.

The study says that of all the nations of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the virus is spreading fastest in Russia. It says HIV is spread in Russia primarily through intravenous drug abuse, followed by sexual transmission.

What is most alarming, the report says, is that Russians know how to prevent the spread of HIV infection, and yet the contagion persists. Now, the report says, it is time for Russians to modify their behavior.

The study was only a broad outline of the problem and gave no statistics. For instance, it did not say how many Russians are estimated to be infected with HIV, which causes AIDS, and the rate of the virus' spread.

The document will be presented to the Development Committee, a joint panel of the World Bank and the IMF which recommends action on a broad range of issues in developing countries.

But there is some question whether the meeting will take place. Demonstrators -- watched closely by police -- have virtually taken over a 50-block area of central Washington. They have promised to shut down the meetings of the bank and the IMF.

Despite the protests, Sunday's meetings took place on time and with all delegations represented. However, not all those who were expected could attend. The finance ministers of four nations were not able to make it through the "human chains" of sometimes raucous demonstrators blocking access to the World Bank and IMF buildings in central Washington.

Most reporters assigned to cover the meetings also were kept away.

"Ain't no power like the power of the people, 'cause the power of the people won't stop! Ain't no power like the power of the people, 'cause the power of the people won't stop! There's no power like the power of the people because the power of the people won't stop!"

While the Group of 10 leading industrialized countries (G-10) were meeting inside the IMF building, one young demonstrator, who refused to identify himself, explained why a reporter could not pass through the "human chain."

"The World Bank and the IMF constantly undervalue human suffering, and until they include the majority of the people on the planet in a meaningful way in the discussions about the economy that affects them and their daily lives and the policies that affect them, then we're going to plague these institutions until they're accountable to the people."

Try as the demonstrators did, however, Sunday's meetings took place -- on time, but with some changes in personnel.

The first meeting was of G-10 finance ministers. But one, Laurent Fabius of France, did not use early transportation provided by the IMF to ensure he could enter the building. He arrived in the area about midmorning, and was rebuffed by the protesters. Fabius was represented at the meeting by the governor of France's central bank.

Fabius also missed a second meeting. This one involved the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), which considers the IMF's agenda. Also unable to attend were the finance ministers of Thailand, Portugal, and Brazil. Again, all 24 nations were represented as lower-level officials sat in for the missing ministers.

The U.S. treasury secretary (finance minister), Lawrence Summers, warned during this meeting that Russia's economic growth over the past year is based on temporary factors, primarily the rising price of oil. He said the most important task facing President-elect Vladimir Putin is to improve Russia's economic and legal structures to encourage more investment in the country.

Summers' comments reinforced an analysis already made by both the World Bank and IMF. The two institutions said Russian consumers have been buying more domestic products because they cannot afford the cost of imported goods. The two institutions also called for increased legal and economic reforms in Russia.

The meeting also issued a communique that expressed no alarm over recent economic indicators in the United States. Many analysts say the overall global economic improvement is due in part to American prosperity. But recently, the U.S. stock market has declined dramatically, and a government report on Friday indicated that inflation could soon resume in the U.S. economy.

But the communique spoke only of what it called "favorable" news of the world economy. At the same time, however, it stressed the need for "balanced" economic growth. This indicates that it believes other nations should not depend on the U.S. to lead the global economy.

Phillip Hay, a spokesman for the World Bank, expressed confidence that today's meetings would be held despite the continuing protests.

"We're optimistic that the meetings will go ahead as planned, and as we promised that they would at the beginning of this long, long week."