Belarusian AIDS figures revealed

By Irina Makovetskaya annd Mariya Yarovenko, Minsk News

The AIDS situation in Belarus was widely discussed in the press last week. The first HIV cases were revealed in the Belarusian army and the situation in prisons is also unfavorable - some six hundred prison inmates are HIV-positive.
As of September 1, 1998, 2,173 HIV cases in total have been registered in Belarus. So far this year, a further 386 cases have been disclosed, 33 of them in August. During 1997, 600 people became HIV-positive. According to the Belarusian AIDS Prevention Center, the number of HIV-infected will rise 550-600 in 1998 as well, which means there is certain stabilization of AIDS spread. Nevertheless, new AIDS cases are still being detected throughout the country.
Experts say that Minsk city and Gomel region are the most troubled areas. About 48 HIV cases have been recorded in the capital in 1998, which makes 228 cases since the first cases were revealed. There are 1,763 HIV-positive in Gomel region, and 277 new cases have been exposed in 1998, 29 of them in August. Svetlagorsk city and district were previously considered an HIV spreading point, with their 110 cases revealed in 1998. Now Zhlobin and its district (69 cases this year) are also deemed high-risk areas. In total there are some 210 HIV-positive in Zhlobin, and 52 cases are registered in the district. Gomel (with its 80 infected, of them 45 in 1998) and Rechitsa (37 and 18 cases, respectively) can be listed among other cities where numbers are rising. 
Mogilev region stands out for its spread criterion: 14 people were shown positive in 1998. Consequently, there are 65 HIV-positive people in total. Most of these people are residents of Mogilev (24 people, five found positive this year) and Bobruisk (28 and seven, correspondingly).
An outburst of HIV infection was disclosed in Brest region: the number has risen from two to 13 in Pinsk in 1998, while in Brest six out of nine cases were revealed this year. As a whole, the increase in the number of people infected in 1998 is rather significant - 28 people (the total number is 41). 
The situation in the other regions is not so ominous but some HIV-positive have been registered as well: in Vitebsk region there are 34 infected people, of them eight contracted HIV in 1998; in Minsk region - 32 (eight this year), in Grodno region - ten and three cases correspondingly.
The main reason (more than 80% of cases) for HIV infection is non sterile intravenous drug (mostly opiates) usage. Heroin and other high quality drugs infection is uncommon because of their exorbitant prices, and those who use heroin can afford disposable syringes. 
World data proves that most HIV-positive people are infected through sexual intercourse. This tendency was similar to that in Belarus until the 1996 discovery among drug addicts in Svetlogorsk. By and by, more people are becoming subject to AIDS. During 1987-1998, 83.8% of those who contracted the disease were infected through IV drug usa, and so far in 1998 - 80.1%, while in August - 66.7%. 
Recently, the state has confronted another problem: HIV-positive mothers refuse to bring up their infected babies. This could cause an enormous social outburst soon. 
There are sixty HIV-positive children in Belarus. Their mothers are drug addicts or were infected through sexual contact.
AIDS prevention problems are very acute among prison inmates. Valery Lozovsky, director of the Belarusian AIDS Prevention Center, failed to define the exact number of HIV-positive prisoners, saying only that the figure alrady exceeds 600. The idea of setting up special prisons for HIV-infected people in Borisov and Bobruisk was not implemented. Apparently law enforcement agencies fail to prevent homosexuality and drug abuse in prisons. The plan to provide prison inmates with condoms will not be accomplished because of a lack of financial resources.