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HIV Epidemic In Central Asia, Eastern Europe Intensifying

The president of the International AIDS Society, Julio Montaner, accused the leading developed and developing countries of failing to carry on the fight to the next stage.
The president of the International AIDS Society, Julio Montaner, accused the leading developed and developing countries of failing to carry on the fight to the next stage.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) says the HIV virus that causes AIDS is now spreading faster in Eastern Europe and Central Asia than anywhere else in the world.

UNICEF says that in certain regions of Russia, HIV infection rates are estimated to have risen by 700 percent since 2006.

In Ukraine, statistics put the rate of infection by the virus that causes AIDS at 1.6 percent of the general population -- the highest rate in Europe. And Central Asia states are seen as the hotspots of new infections.

These are the alarming findings of a report published at the international conference on AIDS in Vienna by UNICEF.

Vicious Circle For Young

Making the situation even more tragic is the young age of those catching the incurable virus. Many of those most at risk are children as young as 12, as well as teenagers and young adults.

The UNICEF report describes a vicious circle of deprivation among neglected children, who run high risks of infection through intravenous drug use with shared needles, and who turn to promiscuous sexual activity, often to support the drug habit.

The agency says the problem is made worse because children infected with HIV and AIDS are not seeking out treatment due to social stigma.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said that "children and adolescents living on the margins of society need access to health and social-welfare services, not a harsh dose of disapproval."

The agency says authorities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia needed to set up nonjudgmental services to address the needs of such marginalized people.

The report highlights a few examples of success: In Russia, for example, more than 100 youth-friendly HIV service facilities have been established to provide sexual-health services, information, counseling, and psychological support.

In another part of the world, in South Africa, a newly developed vaginal gel has cut infection rates among women by 50 percent after just one year.

But the overall challenges remain daunting.

Too Many Meetings, Too Little Action?


At the conference in Vienna, there has been some sharp criticism that the international community is losing focus on the AIDS problem.

The head of the International AIDS Society, Julio Montaner, accused the leading developed and developing countries of failing to carry on the fight to the next stage.

"I cannot hide my profound disappointment and deep frustration with the recently concluded G8 and the G20 meetings in Canada," Montaner said.

"By failing to take full responsibility for the pledge on universal access [to AIDS treatment] and, more importantly, for failing to articulate the next steps to meet not just the six [Millennium Development Goals], but also all of them, because without universal access [to treatment], there shall be no Millennium Development Goals by 2015."

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, however, warned the conference that donor countries could not be expected to give more money to the AIDS cause in hard economic times unless they saw their money was being well spent.

"In too many countries, too much money goes to pay for too many people to go to too many meetings and get on too many airplanes to provide too much technical assistance," Clinton said. "Too much is spent on studies and reports that sit on shelves."

The Vienna conference continues until July 23.

compiled from agency reports

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