Increasing levels of poverty, drug use and prostitution in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union have caused an explosive spread of HIV this year. Experts fear that Eastern Europe could experience an AIDS epidemic similar to that seen in Africa.
According to the National AIDS Centre in Russia, there are now 70,000 cases of full-blown AIDS in Russia, compared with 5,500 last year. The majority of cases seem to be due to the use of contaminated needles and prostitution. Comparing the situation in Russia with that of Africa, Peter Piot, head of the UNAIDS programme, comments: "What potentially makes it worse is the injecting-drug problem, which they don't have in sub-Saharan Africa. So it will be a combination of drugs and sex, and not just sex."
Africa still bears 70% of the worldwide burden of HIV. The UNAIDS agency estimates that 25.3 million people are infected with the AIDS virus, nearly a million more than in 1999. During the past year, around 3.8 million people were newly infected with HIV, fewer than in previous years. This decline, the UN points out, only reflects the fact that the number at risk is fewer because the infected outnumber the uninfected.
The UNAIDS agency started a campaign on Monday for an extra $3 billion or more to combat the disease in sub-Saharan Africa. They report that $1.5 billion would be enough to fund effective prevention programmes, and $1.5 billion could buy palliative care for at least half of all AIDS patients.
World AIDS Day on Friday 1 December will see the launch of the theme for this year, which draws attention to the role men play in the spread of the disease. The campaign aims to encourage men to "make a difference". The behaviour of men has the greatest impact on the spread of the epidemic, and the World AIDS Campaign hopes to bring to their attention the difference they can make.