By Nane Atshemian
A government health agency reported on Thursday a considerable increase in the number of officially registered cases of HIV and AIDS in Armenia. But officials played down the statistics, saying that the disease does not threaten to turn into an epidemic.
According to the Health Ministry’s National Center For the Prevention of AIDS, at least 476 resident of Armenian have been diagnosed with AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes the potentially deadly disease, to date. More than one fifth of them have been identified in the course of this year.
The center’s director, Samvel Grigorian, said the latest figures do not indicate a corresponding spread in the disease in the country. Speaking to reporters on World AIDS Day, Grigorian said they result from what he described as a drastic rise in the number of Armenians willing to undergo free HIV/AIDS tests.
Officials and medical experts admit that the real incidence of the disease in Armenia is much higher. Grigorian’s center estimates the total number of HIV/AIDS cases at around 3,000. The United Nations office in Yerevan warned last year that the Armenian government could be faced with a national “disaster” unless it takes urgent measures to combat the disease.
But Grigorian ruled out the possibility of an AIDS epidemic in the country in the foreseeable future. “It is possible to wage a successful struggle against HIV with coordinated and comprehensive measures,” he said. “If the struggle against HIV continues on this scale, the disease will remain under control in the Republic of Armenia.”
“But there are also objective causes that do not depend on us,” he added, pointing to a large number of Armenians traveling to Russia where HIV/AIDS is a much more serious problem.
Russia, a country of 150 million, had 860,000 HIV/AIDS cases as of December 2004. They have further increase this year at the reportedly highest rate in the world.