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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
HIV hits Eastern Europe youth
HIV under the microscope
HIV under the microscope
HIV and Aids are spreading faster in eastern Europe than anywhere else in the world, posing a major threat to young people's health, experts warn.

A report by Unicef says radical action is needed to stop the spread of the disease in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia and the former Soviet Republics, now the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In the CIS, almost 80% of new infections were among people under 29 between 1997 and 2000. In Estonia, 90% of newly registered infections are in people under 30.

Unicef says HIV/Aids is developing "unchecked", because of a growth in substance abuse, particularly drug misuse, people having sex earlier and the growth of prostitution.


The need for immediate action is paramount

Derek Bodell, National Aids Trust
By the end of 2001, there were an estimated one million people with HIV/Aids in the region.

Most infections are among injecting drug users, but countries such as Belarus and Ukraine are seeing increasing numbers of sexually transmitted cases.

In Belarus, 8% of new infections in 1996 were attributed to sexual transmission. In the first half of 2001, the figure was 32%.

But many young people are unaware of the risks of HIV and how to prevent infection.

Small projects offer hope

A Unicef survey found although 70% knew using a condom protected them against infection, this was significantly lower than awareness levels in western Europe.

In contrast, in France, 97% are aware of the importance of using condoms and in Germany, 87%.

Although Unicef says countries are not doing enough to tackle the problem of HIV and Aids, it adds small scale projects in some of the worst affected countries, such as Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, are making an impact.

Unicef also praised work in countries which acted early to combat the problem, such as Poland, Lithuania and Kyrgyzstan.

The report recommends:-

  • Young people should be involved in awareness raising campaigns and peer education
  • Ensure schools discuss HIV/Aids
  • Create accessible health and advisory services
  • Create inclusive attitudes to people infected and those at high risk

Catastrophe

Carol Bellamy, executive director of Unicef, said: "The implications for the region's economic growth and social stability - which are so dependent on its young people - are alarming.

"HIV/Aids has a young face in this region. Young people account for most new infections and their low levels of HIV awareness, combined with increasingly risky behaviour, herald a catastrophe.

"It is clear that the gravity of the situation has been underestimated and that precious time has been lost. Without immediate and radical action, there is little to stop the spread of the disease."

Derek Bodell, chief executive of the UK's National Aids Trust, said: "These statistics reconfirm the fact that HIV/Aids is not confined to Africa but is a global concern affecting communities around the world.

"We applaud the early action by governments in countries such as Poland and Lithuania that have responded to the epidemic by raising awareness and developing prevention programmes as well as targeted policies.

"However, there remains a need for more immediate action and particularly, political leadership in addressing HIV/AIDS within each country especially those most affected by HIV. Unfortunately such action is often impeded by stigma surrounding the disease.

He added: "The need for immediate action is paramount.

"Not only is it imperative that government's address prevention, develop awareness, improve health services to respond to HIV but it is vital that this commitment is dedicated and long-term."

Unicef has launched a website covering all the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the CIS and the Baltics. It can be found at http:www.unicef.org/programme/highlights/cee.

See also:

10 Jul 02 | Health
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