“HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia needs to be taken out of the medical ghetto which it is in at the moment.”
Speaking in Moscow, he UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Michel Kazatchkine, warned that the region was facing the world’s largest growth in new HIV infections and that the healthcare systems in the region were inadequate to deal with the epidemic.
“HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia needs to be taken out of the medical ghetto which it is in at the moment.” said Mr Kazatchkine to the press.
Unlike other regions where sexual transmission was the main route of HIV infection, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia it has been through intravenous drug use. But now new data is showing that there is a strong increase of new infections from heterosexual sex as well as men who have sex with men.
Over the last five years in the region: 35 percent of new cases have been associated with drug use, 30 percent from heterosexual sex and 40 percent are, rather chillingly, classified ‘unknown’ – a large proportion of these are believed to be from men who have sex with men.
Recent events in Russia, such as legislation changes and huge increases in homophobic crime, have led to a dramatic drop in the number of LGBT people coming forward either for HIV testing or to HIV clinics for continued care for fear of being identified as LGBT.
But Mr Kazatchkine urged people to concentrate on treating the disease rather than judging those who get infected: “Regardless of whether it is driven by heterosexual transmission or drug-injection, I am afraid that until the disease gets visibility and health systems get geared up to take it on, it will not be dealt with properly. In some countries it will probably take a wave of deaths, or the death of someone famous or a prominent member of the Church for anything to change.”
According to figures released by the United Nations, the estimated number of people living with HIV across the Eastern Europe & Central Asia region has grown by 140 percent. Russia and Ukraine make up 90 percent of those cases, with Russia alone representing 70 percent.
This is in no small part due to the poor access to HIV treatment in Russia, with as few as eight percent of those diagnosed receiving the life saving, and infection risk reducing, medication.
Speaking in no uncertain terms the UN envoy said: “HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia needs to be taken out of the medical ghetto which it is in at the moment.”
Source: Inter Press Service