Balkan AIDS cases on the rise

Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are likely to see a rise in AIDS cases in the near future, according to a report by the World Bank. In Romania, 12,559 people have been found to be HIV positive since the disease began to spread. In most cases, infection has been through heterosexual contact, but a large number of cases are among children affected between 1988 and 1991 and who will soon become sexually active. The risk of AIDS reaching epidemic proportions has been heightened by a dramatic increase in the number of drug addicts using hypodermic syringes. In Bulgaria, 366 HIV positive cases have been reported since 1987. Half of those recently affected are under 25 years old; 91 percent were infected by sexual contact, 88 percent of them heterosexual. Roma (Gypsy) people in Bulgaria are considered a high-risk group because of their limited access to health services and their low literacy level. Also, a large number of foreign workers, seamen and prostitutes moving from one place to another pose an additional danger of the disease spreading to the general population. In Croatia, 341 cases were recorded by the end of 2001, with up to 35 new cases appearing every year. Sex tourism and the large number of seamen passing through Croatian ports have favored the spread of infectious diseases, including AIDS. Greece may not be among the high-risk countries, but the entry of immigrants from states with increasingly large numbers of AIDS cases are a factor to be considered. Statistics provided by the Center for the Control of Infectious Diseases have not given cause for concern. The total number of people in Greece who were HIV positive by June 20, 2002 stood at 6,088, of whom 2,308 had AIDS. Men comprise 80.9 percent of HIV positive cases, but the long-term trend has increased among both sexes since 1990. For the first time the number of new seropositives began to decline in 2000 and 2001. The most vulnerable are aged between 25 and 49, but about 75 children aged under 12 have been infected by their mothers. Nearly half of all cases reported have been due to homosexual contact, although heterosexual contact has been responsible for an increasing number of cases (17 percent). These trends should be interpreted in light of two significant changes in the history of the disease: more complete diagnostic criteria, and the introduction of new antiretroviral drugs that extend the lives of those who are HIV positive.