Uzbekistan Experiences AIDS ‘Outbreak’
The number of reported HIV cases in Uzbekistan has jumped from 51 cases between 1989 and 1999 to 25 cases in 1999 and nearly 100 cases this year, leading some experts to say that the country is experiencing an "outbreak" of the disease, the Times of Central Asia reports. The numbers are "official statistics," but experts in the country believe the actual numbers are "much greater." The government, while not declaring the "beginning of an AIDS epidemic," said in a statement, "The spread of HIV in Uzbekistan is in its early stage, but there are signs that the infection may grow in the near future. It is considered not as purely medical but as an important state problem." Critics contend that the government is avoiding declaring an epidemic because such a statement would require mobilization of resources that the country, "facing a socioeconomic crisis," lacks. According to the Times, the government's efforts are therefore "confined to measures whose efficiency is zero." Information about the disease has been slow to reach the public through official and media outlets, perpetuating the "myth" that AIDS is a disease of "social outcasts (homosexuals and prostitutes)." According to the Health Ministry, 90% of HIV infections occur through the sharing of infected syringes among intravenous drug users (two-thirds of whom are between the ages of 15 and 34). The spread of hepatitis C may also reach epidemic levels because of needle sharing among drug users in the Central Asian country. The transmission of HIV is also facilitated by the high cost of condoms. A three-pack of latex condoms costs almost $1, a high price for young people to pay. An informal survey among several dozen residents between the ages of 20 and 33 in Tashkent, the capital city, found that "most of them" do not use condoms.
The government has begun some efforts to curb the spread of the disease. Last August, the government passed a law "on the prevention of the diseases caused by HIV," and since July of this year, counseling stations in eight regional centers have been established where people can get information, be tested and receive free condoms and syringes. In addition, the Health Ministry and UNAIDS last December developed a program that provides "multisectoral" assistance to prevent HIV/AIDS, drug use and STDs (Sidikov, Times of Central Asia, 12/7).