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U.N. Envoy Says Eastern Europe’s Criminal Prosecution Of IDUs Hinders HIV Fight

“The U.N. envoy for AIDS in Eastern Europe on Tuesday denounced the region, and Russia in particular, for its increasingly harsh criminal prosecution of drug [users], at a conference to curb the spread of HIV,” Agence France-Presse/France 24 reports. Michel Kazatchkine, the U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, “spoke to AFP on the sidelines of the International Harm Reduction Conference in Vilnius, which is backed by the Elton John AIDS Foundation and is spotlighting health among intravenous drug users,” the news agency writes.

“Kazatchkine said opiate substitution therapy is illegal in Russia and needle exchange programs are almost nonexistent,” and he “denounced the justice system’s harshness, fuelled by ‘social, cultural, religious and now economic factors,’” AFP states. “According to the U.N. agency UNAIDS, Eastern and Central Europe has the fastest-growing HIV epidemic of any region in the world, with injecting drug use accounting for around three-quarters of new cases,” and “[i]n Russia, some 1.5 million people are living with HIV compared to some 100,000 a decade ago,” the news agency writes, noting, “The conference is taking place in the Lithuanian capital to focus on Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, an HIV hotspot with more than 3.7 million injecting drug users [IDUs], almost a quarter of the worldwide tally” (6/11).