updated 2/17/2004 3:50:05 PM ET 2004-02-17T20:50:05

Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic nation of Estonia have some of the world’s fastest HIV growth rates, the United Nations Development Program declared in a report released Tuesday. The world body said one in every 100 adults of the three countries is infected.

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According to the report on HIV and AIDS in the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, and Eastern Europe, the HIV crisis poses a threat to the region’s economic growth, placing new pressure on already threadbare social welfare programs.

“It is already too late to speak of avoiding a crisis,” said Kalman Mizsei, the U.N. Development Program’s assistant administrator for Europe and the CIS, in a statement.

The crisis has increased health spending from 1 to 3 percent of the nations’ gross domestic product and cut annual GDP growth by 1 percent due to premature death among the productive population.

“Nevertheless, there is still much that governments and civil societies can do to reduce the social, demographic, and economic consequences of HIV/AIDS and even reverse the epidemic,” Mizsei said in the statement.

The U.N. AIDS agency, UNAIDS, estimates that up to 280,000 people in the CIS and Eastern Europe had contracted HIV last year. In all, some 1.8 million people in the region have HIV, according to UNAIDS data.

According to Tuesday’s report, 80,000 people required treatment for AIDS but only 7,000 were receiving it.

AIDS in Russia and other former Soviet republics appeared later than in other countries, but then spread rapidly due to weak anti-drug and prevention programs.

“A better balance needs to be struck between bringing hard-core narcotics traffickers to justice and responding to a public health menace,” the U.N. Development Program said in its report.

Rising heterosexual transmission
HIV and AIDS cases in Russia used to involve mainly drug addicts and homosexuals, but heterosexual transmission has been on the rise lately. According to the Russian Justice Ministry, the infection rate in prisons is rising by 15 percent to 20 percent a year.

“But it can spill over and ... become a generalized epidemic,” Marcia Kran, an adviser with the U.N. Development Program in Bratislava, Slovakia, told reporters in Vienna, Austria.

Officials have recorded more than 257,000 HIV cases in Russia, more than 7,500 of which involve children. But Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Health Ministry’s AIDS Prevention and Treatment Center, has estimated that the actual infection rate was much higher — from 700,000 to 1.5 million.

In Ukraine, some 68,000 people are officially registered as HIV-positive, but experts estimate 500,000 people — more than 1 percent of the population — are infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

In Estonia, 3,621 people are officially registered as HIV-positive, according to the Social Welfare Ministry. Ministry spokeswoman Katrin Pargmae said unofficial estimates were twice as high.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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