The World Bank has released a report recommending a dramatic increase in AIDS prevention efforts to head off the spread of the disease in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The authors of the study released by the World Bank say not enough is being done in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to control the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The report points out that more than a million people across the region are living with HIV and the number of infections is rising more rapidly than anywhere else in the world.
World Bank health specialist and lead author of the report Olusoji Adeyi says failure to control the spread of the illness can have far-reaching effects. "Absent effective action, a number of countries in the region will be looking at a very catastrophic AIDS crisis, serious effects on health, serious impact over economic development, social disruption, and of course a lot of expenditures which they can ill afford," he said.
Despite the potential costs of more widespread infection, Director of Regional Operations Annette Dixon says response to the threat has been inconsistent. "Some countries have started to scale up their efforts, other countries are relying almost solely on the efforts of a very small number of non-governmental organizations and are resisting working with international agencies," she pointed out.
Most of the transmissions come from intravenous drug use, but the number of sexual transmissions is rising. Ms. Dixon says the perception that AIDS is still a drug-user's disease makes it difficult to get authorities to take the threat seriously.
"In many of these countries in this region these people are stigmatized, they are socially excluded, so it is possible for people to live in the belief that this epidemic will not reach the general population," she explained.
The World Bank is recommending overall spending on AIDS control and prevention in Eastern Europe and Central Asia should be raised from the $300 million spent in 2001 to $1.5 billion by 2007. It says the money should be used to encourage prevention programs among high-risk groups, including sex workers and prison inmates, and good health care for people who are already infected.