‘Eastern Europe has fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world’ – UN official

Eastern Europe is beset by an HIV epidemic, but there is hope the situation can soon change for the better, according to the executive director of the UN’s AIDS program, Michel Sidibé.

In Russia and in much of Eastern Europe, AIDS and HIV infections are a growing problem. In 2010, the number of cases in Russia alone is reported to have increased by thousands.

“Eastern Europe and Central Asia is the only region where we see the infection increasing,” Sidibé, who is in Moscow for a forum on AIDS and HIV, told RT. “It is the fastest epidemic in the world today. G8 countries have made an effort to address the epidemic, by increasing the funding. What they have not done is the investment of these funds with the maximum of return. Almost 60 percent of the new infections are occurring among drug users. And they are not living in isolation – they are interacting with the general population. If we don’t have the right policies, it won’t stop.”

Sidibé warned that a zero-tolerance policy toward drug addicts is not working.

“There is a lot of experience from other countries showing that punishment alone is not working,” Sidibé told RT. “You’re criminalizing those people, you’re making them go underground and help themselves. So even when the help is available, it won’t reach them.”

In Russia, stopping an HIV epidemic among drug users is an achievable goal by 2015, Sidibé said.

“We are sure that Russian government can take the leadership in Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” he told RT.

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