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Eastern Europe's Low Hiv/Aids Rates Could Spike

Eastern Europe's Low Hiv/Aids Prevalence Could Spike, UN Report Warns

Although Eastern and South-eastern Europe have a low prevalence of HIV/AIDS, three countries there have among the world's fastest growth rates because of insufficient public awareness, frequent stigmatization and inadequate disease control policies, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says in a new report.

In the first comprehensive study of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 28 countries of East and South Eastern Europe, the Baltics and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), UNDP says 1.8 million, or 0.9 per cent of all adults in the region - mainly men under 30 - are infected with HIV/AIDS.

The report, Reversing the Epidemic: Facts and Policy Options, says the region's high-risk groups include injecting drug users, prisoners, sex workers, migrants and internally displaced people.

"Growth rates in new HIV infections reported over the last several years in Estonia, Russia and Ukraine are among the world's highest," it notes, warning that, "Upwards of one out of every 100 adults living in these three countries is now estimated to be carrying the virus - a threshold above which efforts to turn back the epidemic have failed in many other countries."

Members of high-risk groups are often subject to stigmatization, social exclusion, poverty, or incarceration, according to the report, which says their above-average prevalence of HIV has turned the region's over-crowded penal institutions into "real HIV incubators."

The study predicts that the epidemic will put new strains on already overburdened social protection systems and increased health expenditures to treat people living with AIDS could consume 1 to 3 per cent of annual gross domestic product (GDP).

Premature morbidity and mortality during the years of people's highest productive and reproductive capacities could reduce annual GDP growth by 1 per cent, a tremendous impact for any country, UNDP says.

The report recommends staging open, informative public debates where sensitive and controversial topics can be discussed, increasing financial resources for AIDS prevention, training health care workers more intensively and improving institution-building and multi-agency collaboration.

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