Eastern Europe and Central Asia continue to have the fastest-growing H-I-V/AIDS epidemics in the world. In 2002, there were an estimated two-hundred fifty-thousand new infections, bringing to over one-million the number of people in these regions suffering with H-I-V/AIDS.
Dr. Olusoji Adeyi is a World Bank health specialist. He says the AIDS epidemic is most severe in Russia:
“The worst affected countries include the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus, for example.”
A new World Bank report focuses on the AIDS situation in Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania. While the incidence of AIDS is still relatively low in the Balkans, H-I-V infection has reached alarming proportions among high risk groups, says Dr. Adeyi:
“Yes, this an epidemic to the extent that you define an epidemic as an occasion in which you see more cases of a disease or an infection than what one would ordinarily expect. So, this is an epidemic. Without an iota of doubt we have a problem on our hands.”
Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania share several social conditions that have led to the rapid increase in H-I-V infection. These include the inconsistent quality of health services, increased intravenous drug use, and prostitution. The greatest challenge to slowing the spread of the disease is that the general population in these countries does not feel threatened. The H-I-V infection rate among those outside high-risk groups such as drug users and prostitutes is low, making it difficult to raise public awareness of the potential for the wider spread of the disease. Moreover, there is a stigma attached to high-risk groups, making them less likely to get government attention.
The World Bank researchers are appealing to governments in the Balkans to increase public education about how H-I-V/AIDS is transmitted. As Dr. Adeyi said, “The World Bank is committed to effective policies and interventions that will curb the H-I-V/AIDS epidemic in this sub-region.”