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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September, 2003, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Europe's looming Aids 'catastrophe'
By David Bamford
BBC correspondent, Washington

intravenous drug use
Eastern European governments are in denial, says the World Bank
The World Bank has said that it is imperative that governments in Eastern Europe and Central Asia make a greater political commitment to avert a potentially catastrophic epidemic of HIV/Aids.

The region of the former communist bloc has the fastest growing number of HIV/Aids victims in the world and the World Bank says it is putting forward a programme aimed at preventing the situation threatening the destabilisation of their societies.

The World Bank launched on Tuesday, in Washington DC, its support strategy "Averting Aids crises in Eastern Europe and Central Asia".

The report is intended to concentrate the minds of politicians and others on just how deeply the epidemic could affect economies and social stability if not confronted adequately.

There are already a million HIV positive inhabitants and even optimistic views of the trend put this figure above eight million by the end of the decade.

At present this translates to 500 deaths each month in Russia alone, increasing to 20,000-a-month by the year 2020.

Denial syndrome

The World Bank is concerned that governments remain in denial about the general social disorder caused by widespread HIV infections that threaten to characterise future decades.

The key priority set by the Bank is to raise political commitment.

The Bank report notes as an example that Russia's current Aids budget is 1% of that spent in Britain, even though it has 20 times the problem.

"Countries are paying more attention to the problem, but most of the current efforts to curb HIV/Aids in the region are too small to have an effect on the course of the epidemic," according to the report's author, Olusoji Adeyi.

The report says total available funding to tackle the epidemic in the region is estimated at $300m. It recommends this be increased to $1.5bn by 2007.

While other international agencies can help on the ground, the World Bank sees its role as promoting the exchange of information, helping to improve data collection and providing estimates and planning for the social and economic impacts of the growing epidemic.

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