Moscow Eastern Europe and the republics of the former Soviet Union are fast becoming the new battleground against AIDS, with teen-agers the hardest hit, according to a U.N. report on the epidemic published Wednesday.
Russia has seen the number of people infected with HIV double almost annually, U.N. officials said at a news conference in Moscow. Ukraine became the first nation in Europe to report that 1 percent of its adult population is HIV-positive.
"The epidemic is rising faster in Eastern Europe than anywhere else in the world, and it is still in its early stages," said Peter Piot, executive director of the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS, which operates in more than 100 countries.
The combination of economic insecurity, high unemployment and deteriorating health services throughout Eastern Europe are behind the steep rise, U.N. officials said. Most of those affected are young people, who are spreading HIV by injecting drugs and through unsafe sexual encounters.
"It is a teen-age epidemic teen-agers experimenting with drugs, teen-agers experimenting with sex," Piot said.
In Russia, more than 75,000 new cases of HIV infection were reported by early November, compared with 56,000 cases during all of last year. Gennady Onishchenko, Russia's first deputy health minister, warned there could be 100,000 new cases by year's end.
Ukraine has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the region. Kazakstan is also seeing a substantial increase in cases, primarily among intravenous drug users.
Officials throughout Eastern Europe blame the epidemic's increase partly on the sudden opening of borders, growth of organized crime and weakened social services after the collapse of communist rule. Many young people, feeling bored and uncertain about their future, turn to drugs or unprotected sex, officials say.
Since the first clinical evidence of AIDS appeared 20 years ago, more than 22 million people have died. AIDS is the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, the region hit hardest by the epidemic. The Caribbean is the second most affected area in the world.
This year, African nations will lose 2.3 million people and experience 3.4 million new infections losses that not only drain national budgets but also put future generations at risk by depriving children of parents and local economies of workers.
Some African nations could lose more than 20 percent of their GDP by 2020 because of AIDS, U.N. officials predicted.
The U.N. report is updated annually ahead of World AIDS Day, held every Dec. 1 .