The Washington-based World Bank Thursday called for urgent action in health education and surveillance to control the growing AIDS epidemic in the Balkans region of southeastern Europe.
World Bank health specialist Dr. Olusoji Adeyi says while the incidence of AIDS is still relatively low in the Balkans, the disease has reached epidemic proportions.
"Yes, this is an epidemic to the extent that you define an epidemic as an occasion in which you see more cases of a disease or an infection than what one would ordinarily expect. So this is an epidemic. Without an iota of doubt we have a problem on our hands," he said.
Dr. Adeyi is a co-author of a World Bank report on AIDS in Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania. Of those three countries the situation is worst in Romania with a reported 12,000 HIV-AIDS cases. The greatest number of those infected are children. The most at-risk groups are intravenous drug users and prostitutes.
Dr. Adeyi says in eastern Europe as a whole, the AIDS epidemic is most severe in Russia.
"The worst affected countries include Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, for example. And the highest growth rates we see include countries like Estonia, actually," he said.
While the Balkan countries still have low overall infection rates, Dr. Adeyi says in some Russian cities like the auto manufacturing center of Togliattigrad an alarming 50 percent of drug users are now HIV-positive.
The World Bank researchers are appealing to governments in the Balkans to boost public education about AIDS and overcome the public stigma attached to the disease. The World Bank will release a more complete study of AIDS in the Balkans within the next two months.