Jump in New HIV Cases in Eastern Europe

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Nov. 27, 2013 – New diagnoses of the HIV virus are up nine percent in Eastern Europe, according to figures released by the World Health Organization on Thursday.

Of the 131,000 new cases of HIV reported in the European region in 2012, 102,000 occurred in Eastern Europe, with 76,000 of those cases reported in Russia, accounting for almost 60 percent of new infections, according to the data which was released ahead of World Aids Day on Dec. 1.

About 35 percent of HIV cases in Russia occur among injecting drug users while heterosexual transmission accounts for about 30 percent of cases. The exposure route of the remaining 35 percent is unknown but it is thought that most occur among men who have sex with men.

It was reported last month that a new virulent strain of HIV in Russia was spreading at a rapid rate and accounts for more than 50 percent of new infections.

The Moscow Times reported that Russian schools generally offer little or no sex education, which contributes to the high rate of infection. The paper added that Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights advocate, said in September that he opposed teaching teenagers about sexual health in school, saying that Russian literature is “the best sex education there is.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Preliminary Evidence Suggests Polio in Syria Came from Pakistan

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Nov 10, 2013 – Foreign fighters appear to be the source of the outbreak of polio in Syria that risks infecting hundreds of thousands of children in the region.

Initial tests indicate that the poliovirus detected in Syria is of Pakistani origin, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Pakistan is one of only three countries – along with Afghanistan and Nigeria – where the virus remains endemic. The BBC reported in July that the Pakistan Taliban had set up a base inside Syria to join the fight against the Assad regime.

Syria had been polio free for fourteen years prior to the outbreak and the virus had not been detected in neighboring countries in the past decade but so far this year has been found in sewage samples in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Polio affects the nervous system and can cause paralysis within hours. It usually affects children under five and is typically spread through contact with contaminated feces.

Children usually require four doses of the polio vaccine before school-age to provide lifelong protection against the virus.

As a result of the conflict, immunization rates have plummeted from 92 percent before the conflict to 67 percent as of 2012, according to UNICEF.

WHO and UNICEF aim to vaccinate 20 million children in Syria and neighboring countries in the coming months to prevent an epidemic.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter: @denisfitz

photo/UN Photo