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...

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