Red Ribbons. Not just For Ukraine.

HIV infections are once again rising in the EU and other parts of the West, particularly among younger people, because funding for awareness programmes has been slashed for years and fortunate medical advances in anti-retroviral treatment and a rising life expectancy of those infected are (thus) too often leading to a perception of HIV/AIDS as a chronic illness rather than a fatal disease.

In the US, the problem has been aggravated by the religious right’s efforts to abandon pragmatic policies in favor of a dogmatic prevention policy based predominantly on “abstinence only.”

Yet, in addition to some parts of Asia and large parts of Subsaharan Africa, where the virus is already out of control, Eastern Europe is extremely affected. In fact, as Dr. Peter Piot., head of UNAids, explained yesterday, the situation could hardly be more dramatic – the infection rate in Russia and the surrounding countries “…bears alarming similarities to the situation … faced 20 years ago in Africa” and is “perilously close to [the] tipping point” of spreading quickly through the entire population.

Ukraine, the country watched by the world these days seems particularly vulnerable. Despite well funded prevention efforts deemed “adequate and efficient” by UNAids, according to the agency’s 2004 report Ukraine

“has the highest prevalence of HIV amongst the CIS countries [1,4% of all “adults” aged 15-49]. Since 1995, the virus has spread dramatically, first due to HIV transmission among injecting drug users, but lately also increasingly through sexual transmission. In 2002, 74% of HIV-infected people were injecting drug users, 40% were women and about 64% were under the age of 29.

Thus, In addition to orange ribbons, red ribbons aren’t going out of style any time soon there. For additional info, the BBC has a nice interactive map showing the global spread of HIV based on the 2002 UNAids report.

AIDS in Eastern Europe

Actually the Scotsman puts it like this: “Enlargement of the European Union in May will bring the world?s fastest-growing area of HIV infection on to the doorstep of the EU, United Nations experts warned today.”

Which pretty much scandalises me: how can you turn a human tragedy into a eurosceptic thing, for gods sake? The problem isn’t either nearer or farther due to the enlargement process: it is simply there. The background to this is that Peter Piot, executive director of UNAids, the UN body with responsibilities for HIV/Aids, has been speaking at the start of a conference today in Dublin, held at the invitation of the Irish EU presidency. Among the preoccupying facts contained in Piot’s speech: as many as one in 100 adults in the eastern European states and their neighbours Ukraine and Russia are infected with HIV , and the numbers are growing fast.

?Of the states who are to join, the Baltic states particularly are affected. Then you have got at the borders Ukraine and Russia, where 1% of all adults are infected.

?What may be more important is that in 10 years? time, the number of people infected with HIV has multiplied by 50. There are now about 1.5 million people living with HIV on the doorstep of the EU.?

Would it be unduly hard-hearted of me to point out that these countries are already facing the most dramatic population crisis in Europe. ‘Sempre plou sobre mullat’ we say in Catalan (it always rains on the wet). Is there nothing we can get right. Couldn’t we try, just this once.
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