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HIV increasingly threatens women in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

07 March 2012

It is a fact of our time that HIV is one of the leading causes of death and disease among reproductive-age women around the globe. HIV is a particularly worrisome threat to women in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where women can represent up to 50% of the region’s people living with the condition.

In recent years, the number of HIV infections caused by heterosexual contact have increased by 150% in the region. In Russia, the number of women aged 15 to 24 who are living with HIV is higher than among men of the same age. This trend has been explained by Jean-Elie Malkin, UNAIDS Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“Women are especially at risk of HIV infection due to multiple factors such as economic vulnerability, difficulties in negotiating for safe sex, and the fear or experience of violence,” he said. “In extreme cases all vulnerabilities associated with drug use, sex work, social marginalisation, stigma and discrimination are combined, all of which prevent them from accessing HIV support services.”

In these cases, special interventions need to be conducted on the basis of evidence indicating which activities will have the greatest impact on women and girls affected by the concentrated epidemics experienced in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. These interventions can include access to treatment, care and support, and specific HIV prevention measures tailored to women.

Ms. Natalia Tsunic, representative of People Living with HIV Russia, has stated that “if we want to stop new infections among women, and if we want to address the problems faced by women who are already infected, we have to look at the epidemic through women’s eyes and tailor our response accordingly.”

Julia Lasker, a Russian singer and HIV-activist who has just returned from New York where she participated in a panel discussion on HIV and Women in Easter Europe and Central Asia, as organised as part of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, has stated that “there is a huge need to openly discuss the issue in society, to encourage people to test for HIV, to call young people to protect themselves and their loved ones, and to call for tolerance.”

“I feel personally responsible for many young girls whom I could prevent from being infected, simply through the provision of knowledge and by helping them understand the danger,” Ms. Lasker said. “If I can get this message to at least a few people, it will be a step towards achieving the goal of zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero discrimination.”

The panel discussion participated in by Ms. Lasker was co-chaired by the government of Russia and UNAIDS, as a follow-up from the International Forum on MDG 6 as convened in October 2011 under the leadership of the government of Russia. The forum brought together governments, civil society and UN bodies, in order to effectively respond to the growing HIV epidemic.

The number of people living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has almost tripled between 2000 and 2009, and there has been a four-fold increase in the number of AIDS-related deaths in the region. As of 2010 there were an estimated 1.5 million people living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The epidemic has had a greater impact on some countries in the region than others, with the Russian Federation and Ukraine together accounting for nearly 90% of the regional epidemic, but other countries still face an increase in their HIV incidence rates.

Contact

UNAIDS Tashkent| Alisher Nurmukhamedov| Tel: +998 71 120 3082/83 |

UNAIDS

UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, is an innovative United Nations partnership that leads and inspires the world in achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Learn more at unaids.org.