10 December 2008Discrimination and the social exclusion of people living with HIV are undermining efforts to respond to AIDS in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), one of the few areas in the world where incidence continues to rise, according to a United Nations report released today. Discrimination and the social exclusion of people living with HIV are undermining efforts to respond to AIDS in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), one of the few areas in the world where incidence continues to rise, according to a United Nations report released today. “Just as HIV transforms the lives of people living with HIV – who must come to terms with their HIV-status, identify coping and health promotion strategies, and follow life-saving treatment regimes for the rest of their lives – so too must states and societies in the region undergo transformations in the way they care for their populations and relate to each other for generations to come,” UN Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Director Kori Udovicki said. The report – “Living with HIV in Eastern Europe and CIS: The human cost of social exclusion” -calls for concrete efforts to adjust health, social and other services to accommodate the needs of the growing ranks of people living with HIV and of populations at risk, including injecting-drug users, sex workers, men who have sex with men, migrants and their spouses and partners. Many people living with HIV fear social stigma more than the health consequences of the disease, the report stresses. The fear of stigma and discrimination is a major cause of reduced up-take of prevention, care treatment and support services, even when free, by people living with HIV or at risk of infection, which in turn diminishes the effectiveness of national responses. Limitations on rights can fuel the spread of the epidemic and exacerbate the impact of HIV, it adds. Consequently, respecting people’s individual rights and improving the status of historically marginalized populations can lead to lower rates of HIV transmission, fewer health disparities in society, and improved socio-economic and human development outcomes, the report stresses. From an estimated 630,000 people living with the virus in 2001, HIV prevalence in the region has risen to 1.5 million as of 2007, a 140 per cent increase. Nearly 90 per cent of newly reported HIV cases are from Russia and Ukraine. In Central Asia and the Caucuses, the number of newly reported HIV diagnoses is also rising rapidly, with the highest incidence found in Uzbekistan. The lack of basic training on HIV epidemiology, transmission and prevention, explicit biases against patients being treated for AIDS and unclear policy guidelines are among the key factors contributing to the unpreparedness of employers, educational institutions and health service providers outside of specialized AIDS centres to accept and serve people living with HIV. The report’s launch was timed to coincide with both World AIDS Day and the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.