HIV is spreading again in Western Europe and is rampaging through Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where it infected 250,000 people last year, a United Nations health official said Monday. Eastern Europe and Central Asia are experiencing the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the world, said Peter Piot, the executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. In 1998, Piot noted, there were only 30,000 people known to be infected with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. That figure has since risen to 1.5 million, he said.
Piot released the statistics during the opening session of a two-day conference intended to rally financial and political support for the fight against AIDS. He criticized Western European nations for easing prevention campaigns after the introduction in the 1990s of antiretroviral drugs that slow the progression of HIV infection. Western European AIDS death rates fell to 3,500 last year from more than 20,000 in 1996. But Western Europe registered 30,000 to 40,000 new HIV infections last year, which Piot termed an "unacceptable occurrence for one of the richest regions in the world." HIV also is quickly spreading in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, particularly Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, according to Piot. As many as 1.5 million people in Russia may be infected with the virus, according to U.N. estimates.