Overview. The break up and "democratization" of the USSR and Eastern block countries during the late 1980's unraveled the once rigid socio-economic and political structures and led to massive unemployment and poverty in the region. These led to increased alcoholism, drug use and prostitution. With the collapse of social and political institutions, the Central Asian States (CAS) countries the close proximity to Afghanistan, the major source of raw drugs in the region, made the CAS countries convenient drug traffic routes from Aghanistan to Europe and the United States. This contributed to increased drug use in the the CAS countries that led eventually to increased injecting drug use (IDU) -- a major mode of HIV transmission.

All these factors contributed to the spread of the HIV/AIDS, essentially uncommon in the region until the early 1990s. By 1995, HIV infection has started to spread at an alarming rate among injecting drug users (IDUs) in cities of Belarus, Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The epidemic is more prevalent among young people, especially young men. In Kaliningrad, Russia, 90% of those infected are under 35 yo, more than 60% are under 25 yo.

The national rates remain low -- about 0.35 percent among the adult population, but can be as high as 0.96% in Ukraine. However, the high rate of increase of HIV infection, especially during the past few years, is alarming. In 1999, the Russian Federation recorded the world's highest rate of HIV infection, where the number of people living with HIV doubled between 1997-1999. By the end of 2001, there are about 1 million cases of HIV/AIDS in the region, doubling annually since 1998. Today, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Moldova rank highest in the region and exhibit the highest rate of increase in HIV infection worldwide -- surpassing even the rate of increase in Sub-Saharan Africa.

For more detailed analysis of and strategies to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region, read the folllowing: