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AIDS a threat to E. Europe, Central Asia economies
  By Gideon Long
DUBLIN (Reuters) - An explosion in HIV and AIDS across eastern Europe and central Asia is a threat to economic growth, the United Nations and World Bank said on Tuesday.
The fastest-growing AIDS epidemic in the world - fuelled largely by needle-sharing among young drug users - is expected to raise health spending sharply in both regions, cutting gross domestic product (GDP) growth by up to one percent a year.
"HIV/AIDS is not only a health problem... It has a real impact on other areas of the economy," Armin Fidler, an expert in health, nutrition and population at the World Bank told a news conference at an international meeting on AIDS in Europe and central Asia.
He said the economic implications of AIDS often tended to focus minds at governmental level far more than the social and health implications of the disease.
"It's that that really makes people listen," he told a news conference at a major international meeting on AIDS in Europe and central Asia, organised by the Irish government as president of the European Union.
Speakers at the conference drew on a report published last week by the United Nations Development Programme, which said GDP growth could fall by one percent per year in the two regions if AIDS continues to spread like wildfire.
The report said there has been a 50-fold increase in HIV infections in the past eight years to around 1.5 million people in 28 countries in east and southeast Europe, the Baltics and the former Soviet Union and said the disease is particularly rife among young people.
"Increased health expenditures associated with treating people living with AIDS could consume one to three percentage points of annual GDP," it said.
AIDS campaigners have warned that unless something is done to address the problem, the regions could face an epidemic as devastating as in Africa, where some 30 million people are living with the disease.
The problem is worst in Russia, Ukraine and Estonia but it is also deepening in Latvia, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Lithuania.
The World Bank says that around $15 million is needed immediately to provide central Asia's half a million injecting drug users with a package of services including disposable syringes, condoms and education about the disease.
"According to recent estimates, about $1 billion would be necessary for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in central Asia in the period 2004-07," the bank said in a statement.


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