Participants at an international conference on combating the spread of HIV/AIDS in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, which opened in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on Monday, are calling for greater regional cooperation to tackle the disease.
“No country in the world is protected against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, therefore the fight against this dreadful disease should be conducted on a regional level,” said Erkinbek Alymbekov, deputy speaker of the Kyrgyz parliament, where the event was held.
Representatives of parliaments and health ministries from Central Asian countries, Russia, Ukraine and leading international agencies and NGOs are among participants at the conference.
“Lawmakers in the region have the most important role in terms of legislative efforts on the adoption and implementation of effective measures to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” Alymbekov added.
The conference, entitled: “The HIV Epidemic in Central Asia and Eastern Europe: Legislative Measures to Combat the Spread of HIV and Priorities for Regional Cooperation”, is supported by the Central Asia AIDS Control Project (CAAP) and Transatlantic Partners Against AIDS (TPAA), an international NGO working on HIV/AIDS awareness raising.
CAAP is financed by the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development (DfID). The regional project is aimed at reducing the negative social-economic consequences of the generalised HIV/AIDS epidemic in Central Asia.
Central Asia has witnessed a dramatic increase in infection rates over the past four years. Officially reported cases jumped from about 500 in 2000 to over 12,000 in 2004.
But unreported cases are thought to be much larger; the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are some 90,000 people in Central Asia living with HIV/AIDS. The epidemic is driven by injecting drug use and is concentrated among young people.
“This of course puts all branches of the state, including the legislator, on alert. There needs to be improved legislation aimed at excluding the cases of stigma and discrimination [of those living with HIV]. First of all, this concerns vulnerable groups, like injecting drug users, sex workers and labour migrants, whose numbers have considerably increased [in the region] over the past decade,” Tilek Meimanaliev, executive director of CAAP, said in Bishkek.
“This conference will give a unique opportunity to share experience in this area and discuss best practices,” Meimanaliev added.
Worldwide, evidence suggests that early action can avoid huge costs later. The uninhibited spread of HIV in Central Asia over the next decade would slow economic growth by an estimated 20 percent in Uzbekistan and by 10 percent in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the conference organisers said in a statement. Region wide, a generalised epidemic could lead to an annual decline in economic growth of between a half and one percentage point, hitting all areas of the economy from the oil and gas giants to the finance sector and smaller enterprises and agriculture.
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