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Report: HIV-AIDS Stunts Economic Potential of Former Soviet Bloc - 2004-02-17

The United Nations says HIV/AIDS has reached alarming proportions in the former communist bloc, but countries with successful democracies are beginning to reverse the trend.

The regional office of the U.N. Development Program has presented the first comprehensive survey of HIV-AIDS infections in 28 countries of Eastern Europe, the Baltic states and the former Soviet Union.

Marcia Kran, chief U.N. advisor, describes some of the figures as "devastating."

"That is, Ukraine, the Russian Federation, Belarus, Moldova, as well as the Baltic states, have some of the fastest growing rates of infection in the world, and have had for the past several years," she said. "U.N. AIDS estimates that the total number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the region could be as high as 1.8 million."

Ms. Kran says one of the main reasons for the epidemic in the Baltic state of Estonia is the practice of imprisonment before trial, and the resulting high prison population.

The report says the disease stunts the economic potential of countries affected, since the highest infection rates are among 15-to-40-year-olds, who make up the bulk of the work force.

Ms. Kran says some countries are responding to the U.N. AIDS campaign, especially those with open societies and with access to information.

"For example, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have recorded important success in halting or reversing the spread of the epidemic," said Ms. Kran. "They have been able to leverage progress in building vibrant democracies into effective responses to deal with HIV/AIDS."

Ms. Kran says Poland was one of the first countries in the 1990s to report HIV/AIDS cases.

The United Nations says it stands ready to act together with governments and civil society to increase public awareness and promote related issues, such as prison reform.