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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 14:01 GMT
Aids: Europe's new iron curtain
Injecting drug users are at most risk in the East
A new iron curtain has emerged across Europe in recent years.

This divide between East and West has been triggered by Aids rather than opposing political philosophies.

Latest figures from UNAids show a continent fighting a common enemy but with very different results.

The West
570,000 people in Western Europe have the disease
30,000 people were diagnosed with HIV last year
In the West, there are currently 570,000 people living with HIV. Some 30,000 people have been told they have the disease in the past year.

The situation in the East could not be more different. Countries in Eastern Europe and central Asia have the highest rates of new infections in the world.

The total number of people living with HIV is now 1.2m, with 250,000 new cases identified in the past year alone.

The East
At least 1.2m people have HIV
250,000 new cases were identified last year
Estonia has seen the largest increase in new infections in the region, in terms of overall population. In the past three years, the number of new cases has spiralled from just 12 in 1999 to 1,474 in 2001.

Spreading fast

The disease is spreading frighteningly fast across the Russian Federation. In 1998, 10,993 people were diagnosed as HIV positive. By the middle of 2002, over 200,000 had been given the same news.

In all, HIV epidemics have been identified in 30 Russian cities and in 86 of its 89 regions.

However, experts believe that these high figures may grossly underestimate the true extent of the problem.

A recent study in the Russian city of Togliatti found that three out of four injecting drug users were unaware they had the disease.

HIV is also taking hold in neighbouring countries. Steep rises are being reported in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

In Ukraine, 1% of the population has the disease - the highest rate in Europe.

Lack of awareness

The UNAids report states that a lack of HIV education and prevention campaigns is to blame for the European divide.

A survey carried out in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan last year revealed that one in three young women had never even heard of Aids.

High rates of sexually transmitted disease also indicate that safe sex messages are not being heard.

The report highlights the record of central European countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary where national programmes have helped to keep new infections "exceptionally low".

It calls on national governments to join forces with the private sector, charities and other groups to help fight the disease.

The report states: "The challenge is to expand coverage, develop and implement more comprehensive approaches to reduce vulnerability among young people and create better access to care for those who are becoming ill."


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