Despite pledges from governments across Eastern Europe and Central Asia to fight HIV/AIDS – one of the eight Millennium Development Goals – the region has the world’s fastest-growing HIV epidemic.
Punitive drug policies, discrimination and problems with access to medicines and important therapy are all driving an epidemic which is unlikely to be contained, world experts say, until governments in countries with the worst problems change key policies and approaches to the disease.
Daniel Wolfe, director of the International Harm Reduction Development Program at the Open Society Foundations, told IPS: “In most post-Soviet countries, where HIV remains concentrated among injecting drug users, harsh policies and discrimination in healthcare settings continue to cripple the AIDS response.”
Figures showing the extent of the region’s problems with the disease make grim reading. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), while HIV infection rates are actually falling globally, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) is seeing the reverse.
The WHO says that there were 170,000 new HIV infections in the region in 2011. New infections have risen 22 percent in the EECA since 2005, and there is no sign of a slowdown.
Injection drug use has been identified as fuelling the epidemic – accounting for up to 70 percent of new infections, according to the WHO.
Activists say the key to tackling the epidemic lies first and foremost in combating the injecting drug use problem, but that official and unofficial stances towards drugs and their users are stopping the problem being effectively tackled, or are even making it worse.
Dasha Ocheret of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network, told IPS: “Punitive drug policies have to be stopped. People are afraid to get treatment for fear of criminal ...