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Landmark HIV/AIDS conference ends with new regional commitments

[Pakistan] Drug addicts exchanging used needles for new ones at a centre in Karachi. IRIN
The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Central Asia is driven by cheap heroin from Afghanistan
The first HIV/AIDS conference on Russia, eastern Europe and Central Asia held in Moscow concluded on Wednesday with a call for greater leadership and commitment in mitigating the pandemic’s spread in the region. “The message was that there is considerable seriousness in terms of HIV/AIDS in the region,” Christoph Benn, External Relations Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said from Moscow. The epidemic continues to grow in eastern Europe and Central Asia, with the number of people living with HIV reaching 1.6 million in 2005. Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous nation, has the highest recorded number of registered HIV/AIDS cases of the five Central Asian republics. In 1999, 28 people were diagnosed with the virus – in 2005, 2,016 new infections were reported, bringing the official total to 7,800. Unofficial estimates put the number of infections at around 10 times the official figure. The eastern European and Central Asian AIDS conference, attended by over 1,500 representatives from 47 countries, focused on combating AIDS-related stigma and discrimination in the region. “A couple of years ago, there was no real willingness [to address the pandemic],” Benn said. “There was discrimination and stigma. This has changed and we see discrimination to a lesser degree now. That is an encouragement, although, it still needs to be further tackled.” The three-day long conference also provided a platform for discussions on increasing universal access for HIV services, prevention, treatment, care and support. Since HIV/AIDS is driven largely by growing intravenous drug usage in the region, therapy and access to drug rehabilitation were key, Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), emphasised. “AIDS is one of the greatest challenges facing eastern Europe and Central Asia today,” said Piot during his keynote address at the conference. “On most continents we see countries where HIV prevalence is declining, particularly among young people. This is clearly a strong demonstration that HIV prevention works. Unfortunately, such prevention successes are not yet seen in this region.” But the conference also addressed the matter of funding and investment. Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have resources to invest in HIV/AIDS programmes, but others do not, relying on the Global Fund, the World Bank and major bilateral donors instead. “The region has great potential with fairly good infrastructure and resources of its own, Benn said. “Russia announced during the conference it will do more - committing more money - but some countries, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, need continued support. But we [the Global Fund] are positive; we see that this region turns money into results.” In eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Global Fund is the largest external donor for efforts to prevent and treat HIV and tuberculosis, having committed more than US $700 million to the region.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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