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July 19, 2010

Harsh attitudes fuel Eastern Europe HIV epidemic

Harsh attitudes fuel Eastern Europe HIV epidemic | World | Reuters: "An underground HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is building at an alarming pace, fuelled by drug use, risky sex and severe social stigma that stops people asking for help, the United Nations said on Monday.

"In a report published at an international conference on AIDS, the U.N. children's fund UNICEF said health and social services in the region do little for young people at high risk of HIV, who are instead subject to judgement, recrimination and even prosecution if they seek treatment or information on HIV. ...

"UNICEF said it had had reports of increases in HIV prevalence of up to 700 percent in five regions of Russia. In Ukraine HIV rates of 1.6 percent of the general population are the highest in Europe and experts say Central Asian countries are the new hot-spots of rapidly increasing HIV transmission.

"Anthony Lake, UNICEF's executive director, said efforts to contain this rapid spread were being thwarted by harsh political and social attitudes, particularly to the 3.7 million injecting drug users in the region who are at very high risk of HIV.

"Children and adolescents living on the margins of society need access to health and social welfare services, not a harsh dose of disapproval," he said in commentary with the report. "We need to build an environment of trust and care, not one of judgement and exclusion."