Bloomberg News

AIDS Deaths Surge in Russia and Ukraine, Defying Global Trend

November 23, 2011

Nov. 21 (Bloomberg) -- AIDS deaths have jumped more than 11-fold in Eastern Europe and Central Asia over the past decade, defying a global decline in the toll exacted by the world’s deadliest infectious disease.

AIDS killed about 90,000 people in the region in 2010, compared with 7,800 in 2001, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, said in a report today. Russia and the Ukraine account for 90 percent of the area’s HIV-infected people, most of whom are drug users who catch the virus by sharing contaminated needles.

A failure in Russia to implement harm-reduction programs such as offering drug users clean needles, or switching them to methadone tablets from heroin injections, is fueling the spread of the virus, said Paul De Lay, the deputy executive director of the Geneva-based agency.

“About five years ago they were really starting to see a turnaround,” De Lay said in a telephone interview. “That’s all pretty much fallen apart. What we’re pushing is for the surrounding countries not to follow the Russian Federation model, but to stay with what we know works.”

Globally, AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.8 million last year from 1.9 million in 2001. The number of new infections dropped to 2.7 million from 3.1 million, according to the report. Greater availability of medicines at cheaper prices, combined with male circumcision programs in Africa and people having less risky sex, are helping to curb the epidemic, De Lay said.

A commitment by UNAIDS’s member nations to increase spending to as much as $22 billion a year by 2015 from about $15 billion now could move the world closer to ending the epidemic, even as the global financial crisis crimps resources, he said.

“We are seeing an AIDS fatigue,” De Lay said. “Because of the flatlining of money, we need to use what we have in a much smarter way.”

--Editors: Phil Serafino, David Risser

To contact the reporter on this story: Simeon Bennett in Geneva at sbennett9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.net


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