UN AIDS chief: Spread of HIV in E. Europe is scary

A near tripling of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia over the past nine years is frightening, the U.N.'s top AIDS official said Wednesday.

The United Nations estimates that 1.4 million people were living with HIV in the region in 2009 — almost three times the number in 2000 — and that, combined, the Russian Federation and Ukraine account for nearly 90 percent of newly reported infections in the region.

The U.N. also said about 76,000 people perished from AIDS-related causes in the region last year, compared to 18,000 in 2001.

"When we are seeing a positive movement happening in a different part of the world, we are scared of what is happening in Eastern Europe and Central Asia," Michel Sidibe, head of the U.N.'s AIDS agency, known as UNAIDS, told reporters in Vienna.

"When we are seeing a decline in the rest of the world, we are seeing an increase of new infection in this part of the world."

A new UNAIDS report released Tuesday showed that the global AIDS epidemic has slowed, with a 20 percent decrease in new HIV infections over the past decade.

However, it found there are still 7,000 new infections each day and that approximately 10 million people — double the number on treatment — are still waiting to be initiated onto the drugs.

The increase in Eastern Europe is largely due to the fact that prevention measures for most at risk populations are not working and that only about 30 percent of people in the area have access to such programs, Sidibe said.

"That is very, very low if you want to change the trajectory of the epidemic," he said.

He also warned that drug users have become transmitters of the virus because they don't have access to services and "have to go underground."

Sidibe was in Vienna to sign a cooperation agreement between UNAIDS and AIDS Life, a group that organizes the Austrian capital's annual Life Ball gala that raises money for people with HIV and AIDS.