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U.N. Special Envoy Warns Of Growing HIV Epidemics Among Marginalized Groups In Eastern Europe

“Health care systems in Eastern Europe and Central Asia remain woefully unable to cope with HIV/AIDS as the region’s raging epidemic — the fastest growing in the world – takes on a new dimension, a senior U.N. official has told [Inter Press Service],” the news service reports (Stracansky, 11/4). “HIV epidemics are becoming more concentrated in marginalized groups such as sex workers, drug users and gay men, and could defy global attempts to combat AIDS if attitudes do not change, [Michel Kazatchkine, U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe,] said,” Reuters writes, noting “he would like to be able to celebrate without reservation global progress made in the past decade, but stubborn infection rates and alarming growth of outbreaks in hard-to-reach populations make that difficult” (Kelland, 11/4).

“Until now the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) epidemic had been driven by injection drug use. But data and anecdotal evidence has shown a strong rise in the spread of the disease through heterosexual transmission as well as via men who have sex with men — potentially throwing up a new set of challenges for governments and health care ministers,” according to IPS. However, Kazatchkine “says … until a new approach to treating the disease is taken in countries worst affected by it, the response to the epidemic will continue to be poor and largely ineffective,” the news service writes, adding, “International bodies have urged countries in the region to adopt harm reduction programs, including needle exchanges and drug substitution therapy, which are recommended best practice in the West as a front-line measure to help prevent the spread of the disease” (11/4). “Kazatchkine called for a ‘shift in the collective mindset’ to put equity and human rights at the center of the battle against HIV in these groups,” according to Reuters (11/4).