By Anna Saghabalian
The United Nations warned of a potential HIV/AIDS epidemic in Armenia on Wednesday as the latest government statistics indicated an alarming increase in the number people infected with the deadly disease.
“If this country doesn’t do something now to stop the spread of the disease you will witness a disaster,” Liz Grande, head of the UN office in Yerevan, declared at an event dedicated to World AIDS Day.
Activists and governments marked the day with similar events drawing attention to the disease and promoting its eradication. Women and girls, seen as the most vulnerable group, were the main theme of this year's global awareness campaign.
Grande’s warning was echoed by Lars Callings, the UN secretary general’s special anti-AIDS representative to Eastern Europe. He urged the Armenian government to take urgent preventive measures to spare the country the fate of Russia and other ex-Soviet states where AIDS has spread dramatically over the past 15 years.
Russia, a country of 150 million, already has 860,000 HIV and AIDS cases. The incidence of the disease in Armenia is still low in both absolute and relative terms, with only 304 people officially registered as HIV carriers. However, the Armenian Health Ministry’s Center for AIDS Prevention estimates that the real number of individuals suffering from it could be ten times larger.
Even the official figure represents a major increase from the 2000 level. The center’s director, Samvel Grigorian, revealed that 2004 has seen the biggest year-on-year rise in HIV cases, with 53 more people officially found to be affected by the virus which can cause AIDS.
“In the last four years we have registered more HIV carriers than between 1988 and 2000,” Grigorian said during the UN presentation. “Half of our 60 AIDS cases were registered in the last two years.”
According to Grigorian’s center, 90 percent of the Armenians suffering from AIDS were infected during drug injection or heterosexual intercourse. Eleven of them have died this year.
The Armenian government adopted a plan of anti-AIDS actions two years ago but has so far spent little on fighting the disease. Its 2004 budget set aside only 50 million drams ($100,000) for that purpose. The government’s efforts to raise public awareness have been largely funded by international organizations. One of them, Global Fund, has allocated $7.5 million to Armenia.
(Photolur photo: Liz Grande.)