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Unicef tackles high European HIV levels

A report published by Unicef indicates the spread of HIV in Central and Eastern Europe is one of the steepest worldwide

A report published by Unicef indicates the spread of HIV in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), including the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), is one of the steepest worldwide.

In 2007, 340,000 people in the region aged 15 to 24 had HIV; 65 per cent of these were young men. The Russian Federation has the largest HIV epidemic but the Ukraine has a faster rate of new infections with annual new HIV diagnoses more than doubling since 2001. Infection rates are also rising in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Krrgyzstan, the Republic of Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

In its report HIV Prevention with Young People: The Key to Tackling the Epidemic, Unicef says high rates of substance abuse (the region has the highest prevalence of injecting drug use in the world), institutionalisation, human trafficking and unemployment place young people at greater risk of contracting HIV.

Parents emigrating in search of employment has led to many children being left behind where they are vulnerable to exploitation, drug abuse and other risks. Data shows the numbers of children in residential care as well as those living or working on the streets are all increasing.

Unicef, in partnership with UNAIDS and others, are working in Central and Eastern Europe to ensure measures are in place to reduce the rate of HIV transmission and maintain low prevalence. This has proved challenging as fear of prosecution for drug use, prostitution or homosexuality can deter many young people from accessing services. In addition, in many of these countries, adolescents may only seek healthcare with a parent's knowledge and permission.

Unicef is working in these countries to expand access to health and harm reduction services for young people aged 10 to 19 – a significant portion of those practising sexual risk behaviours and drug use for the first time.

The publication of HIV Prevention with Young People: The Key to Tackling the Epidemic marks the launch of Unicef UK's We Want to Live Free from HIV campaign, which aims to raise £2m for HIV prevention and remind governments of the importance of effective awareness and prevention initiatives for young people.

For the full Unicef report visit www.unicef.org.uk

7th May 2009

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