ALLINN (AFP) – More must be done to stem HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe, as infections continue to spiral in nations in the region, notably Russia, experts warned on Friday.
“Western Europe, including southern states like Portugal that used to cause a lot of worry on HIV years ago, have been showing to world that prevention is possible,” Danish specialist Jens Lundgren told the wrap-up session of a three-day conference in the Estonian capital Tallinn.
“But in eastern Europe the epidemic keeps spreading,” he warned an audience of 500 fellow experts.
“We need more testing that will help to limit the spread of HIV and will also help those with the virus to get proper treatment in time,” he added.
United Nations figures show that Eastern Europe and Central Asia is the only region where the incidence of HIV clearly remains on the rise.
According to the World Health Organisation, there were over 100,000 new infections in the region in 2008.
The annual number of reported new cases is relatively stable in the West with around 20 000 cases annually, but volatile and increasing in the East with four times more new cases diagnosed annually.
The number of people living with HIV in the region almost tripled between 2000 and 2009, hitting an estimated 1.4 million, according to data from UNAIDS.
Russia and Ukraine accounted for nearly 90 percent of newly-reported HIV infections. In Russia, 37 percent of the country’s 1.8 million injecting drug users are living with HIV.
“More independent academic research is needed to get proper data that states might not always wish to give, for example in Russia where the HIV epidemic is totally out of control,” Pauli Leinikki, of the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, told the conference.
“Efficient tools existing to stop the spread of HIV have been the same for a long time, such as antiretroviral treatment, needle exchange programmes, or opioid substitution therapy, but only with more political will these can be implemented efficiently enough,” Leinikki added.
Worldwide, there are 33.3 million people living with HIV, including 22.5 million in sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNAIDS.