Continuing the focus on the political situation in eastern Europe on the first day of the 14th European AIDS Conference
, delegates at the opening session of the conference heard that eastern Europe is facing a ‘quadruple epidemic’. Rates of HIV, injecting drug use, tuberculosis and hepatitis C continue to rise alarmingly – yet governments are failing to take action.
According to the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy on HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Professor Michel Kazatchkine: “If the epidemic in eastern Europe is not brought under control, it will be the governments of the region who will bear responsibility for the human tragedy that is unfolding in their countries.”
The HIV epidemic continues to grow in this region, and it is the only area of the world where deaths from AIDS are still rising. At the same time, only 30% of people in need of HIV treatment can access it
Injecting drug use is known to be one of the key HIV transmission routes. In some countries, hepatitis C
rates amongst injecting drug users are as high as 60 to 80%, yet virtually no one is able to access hepatitis C treatment. In addition, people are often sent to prison for minor drug offences – with prisoners then being at higher risk of acquiring HIV and being exposed to tuberculosis
(TB). The region has one of the highest rates of TB cases in the world, with ever-increasing numbers of people also HIV positive. But rates of screening and treatment for both conditions remain extremely low. About 40% of HIV infections in the region are described as ‘exposure group unknown’, believed to include high numbers of transmissions as a result of sex between men. Both injecting drug use and sex between men are behaviours that are highly stigmatised, if not illegal, in the region.
Professor Kazatchkine told the conference that even relatively small increases in the provision of needle exchange, opioid substitution therapy and HIV treatment could reduce HIV infections significantly, as long as the three approaches were used together. Most harm-reduction programmes currently being delivered in eastern Europe are funded by donors outside the region, because of political resistance to tackling many of these problems. Professor Kazatchkine called on the European Union to focus on the situation, saying that immediate action could be taken to improve the situation.
Photo by Liz Highleyman, hivandhepatitis.com
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Source: NAM aidsmap