Huge spike in drug users with HIV/AIDS

The number of people to have contracted the AIDS virus intravenously has increased virtually tenfold this year, according to a new medical study which warns of a spike in drug users being diagnosed as suffering from the potentially deadly disease.

Meanwhile state health officials are warning that the risk of HIV infection is particularly high in central Athens where the illegal sex trade is thriving.

According to the results of a study carried out by experts at the Athens Medical School, a total of 69 cases of people contracting the virus which causes AIDS through the intravenous use of drugs were reported to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO) in the first five months of this year. This constitutes a tenfold increase according to the authors of the study, who noted that in the first 10 months of last year only 12 such cases were referred to KEELPNO.

The increase marks a significant shift as, up until 2009, the majority of AIDS cases in Greece had contracted the disease through sexual contact.

Still the thriving illegal sex trade in central Athens — chiefly involving women from sub-Saharan Africa where the rate of HIV infection stands at around 40 percent — remains a serious concern.

Last month Health Minister Andreas Loverdos called on Greek men to be careful ?not to transfer the problem [of AIDS] into the Greek family.?

A joint initiative by the ministry and KEELPNO, to be launched in September, is to dispense free syringes from mobile units in central Athens with the aim of reducing the risks faced by drug users.

Already KEELPNO has spearheaded other initiatives aimed at curbing public health risks in the capital?s historic center, where countless drug users, undocumented immigrants and destitute citizens live in cramped conditions in dingy squats and cheap hotels. Recent tests by KEELPNO on samples of immigrants in the central squares of Omonia, Victoria and Larissis showed that many were infected with tuberculosis and skin diseases.