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Russia's Aids catastrophe growing
Injecting drugs
Infection rates rocket among East European drug users
The spiralling rate of HIV infection in Russia and eastern Europe has been revealed by shocking new figures.

The annual "Aids Epidemic Update" from the United Nations and World Health Organisation estimates that more than 36m people around the world are now living with HIV or Aids.

Although sub-Saharan Africa is still the main focus of the HIV epidemic worldwide, new infections there have fallen slightly.

UNAIDS figures for 2000
5.3 million people newly infected with HIV
34.7 million adults living with HIV/AIDS
1.4 million children living with HIV/AIDS
3 million deaths from AIDS
2.4 million deaths from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa
21.8 million deaths from AIDS so far
47% of HIV adults are women
This, say scientists, may be because, in some countries and age groups, the infected outnumber the uninfected.

But one of the new regions of greatest concern is eastern Europe, and Russia in particular, where experts predict more than a million people will be infected by HIV within two years.

In fact more new HIV infections have been registered in Russia during 2000 than all previous years put together.

The UNAids report confirms that "HIV shows no sign of curbing its exponential growth in the Russian Federation".

Prostitutes in down-town Moscow
Aids has also spread among Russia's prostitutes

There are now almost 70,000 cases of full blown Aids registered with the National Aids Centre in Russia - compared to just over 5,500 last year.

The majority of those with HIV in Eastern Europe are injecting drug users, although there has also been an increasing spread among sex workers.

There are an estimated three to four million drug users in Russia, say Medicins Sans Frontiers, and pessimists believe as many as two million drug users could be infected by 2002.

In Western Europe and the United States the UNAidsreport describes efforts to slow the spread of HIV as having "stalled".

Estimates suggest that the number of people newly infected during 2000 has not fallen from the previous year, when 30,000 acquired HIV in Western Europe and 45,000 in North America.

It says: "In this era in which few young gay men have seen friends die of Aids, and some mistakenly view anti-retrovirals as a cure, there is growing complacency about the HIV risk..."

It is injecting drug users, however, who are believed to form the bulk of those newly infected in most higher income countries.

Africa bears the brunt

The latest figures show, say researchers, that Aids has "brought a global epidemic far more extensive than predicted a decade ago".

In this era in which few young gay men have seen friends die of Aids, and some mistakenly view anti-retrovirals as a cure, there is growing complacency about the HIV risk

AIDS Epidemic Update
It is the countries of sub-Saharan Africa that once again bear the brunt of the HIV burden.

Here, around 3.8 million people were newly infected with the virus during the past year.

But, this is slightly down on the four million new infections for the region during 1999.

Nevertheless, in the eight African countries where HIV infection is most prevalent the report says "conservative analyses show that Aids will claim the lives of around a third of today's 15-year-olds".

In such countries it warns that HIV "threatens to devastate whole communities, rolling back decades of progress towards a healthier and more prosperous future".

The report illustrates how HIV is affecting these communities in lost productivity and the increasing costs of medical care.

These figures are horrific

Gavin Hart, National Aids Trust
And, while it is the better educated who take steps to prevent the spread of HIV, education is suffering in countries such as Zambia and Swaziland, because of the number of teachers dying of Aids.

Gavin Hart, spokesman for the National Aids Trust, said the figures were "horrific". He said: "Developed nations have to redouble their efforts to assist the developing countries to fight HIV."

Prevention poster in Ukraine
Harm reduction: a Ukrainian poster shows how to sterilise needles

He added countries hit by the epidemic, such as those in eastern Europe, needed to work on prevention and education, and to look at more radical measures like setting up needle exchanges.

Other parts of the globe are also beginning to feel the impact of HIV.

Although data is more limited from North Africa and the Middle East, indications are that the number of new infections is increasing.

Algerian reports show that 1% of women attending antenatal clinics are infected with the virus.

In south and southeast Asia, around 700,000 adults were newly infected with HIV this year, some through IV drug use, some through sex with prostitutes and some through homosexual sex.

And there are warnings that other parts of Asia, particularly those with a high profile sex industry, could still see a surge in HIV infections.

World Aids Day on 1 December focuses this year on the role of men in preventing the spread of the disease.

The theme of "Men Make a Difference" is aimed at encouraging both men and women to talk about HIV and Aids and to overcome the taboos that stop people taking steps to protect themselves from infection.

Arkadiusz Majszyk, UNAIDS Russian Federation
"We should work directly with the high risk groups"
Vinay Salbanha, Canada AIDS Project, St Petersburg
"Russia is completely overwhelmed by the number of new cases"

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