HIV/AIDS Spreads in Former Soviet Republics

Box 14


HIV infection is spreading rapidly in the former Soviet Union to communities and countries that were hardly affected by the epidemic only a few years ago, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reports. Ukraine recently reported a dramatic increase in newly infected injecting drug users in cities bordering the Black Sea. For example, HIV infection among people injecting drugs in Nikolayev exploded from 1.7 per cent in January 1995 to 56.5 per cent just 11 months later.

In Russia, 190 out of 45,507 injecting drug users tested in 1996 were HIV-positive; in 1994, none of the 84,377 users tested were positive for the virus. Between January and December 1996, persons reportedly infected with HIV in Kaliningrad increased 18-fold, from 21 to 387; most were people who inject drugs. The sex ratio of HIV-infected Russians has begun to equalize: infected men now outnumber infected women by 2:1 instead of by 6:1.

Sharp rises in STD rates, indicating a rise in unsafe sex, suggest a further spread of HIV may be imminent. Between 1994 and 1995, syphilis incidence rates (new cases per 100,000 population) doubled in Russia (from 81.7 to 172) and Belarus (from 72.1 to 147.1), and tripled (from 32.6 to 123) in Kazakstan. "Unfortunately, there is no longer the infrastructure for providing essential services and prevention programmes," according to UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot.

Source: UNAIDS and World Health Organization. 1996. "UNAIDS: The Global Epidemic: December 1996." 28 November 1996.