• 2005-04-06
Probably a day doesn't go buy when an international conference, or a new study, or a major announcement on HIV and AIDS makes the headline. The press and public are saturated with information on one of the deadliest diseases known to mankind, and, thanks to that, the number of new cases of HIV is on the wane. Compared with 10 years ago, people are aware of the disease and how it is contracted.

After a sharp increase in the number of new HIV cases at the beginning of the decade, the Baltic states have made headway in reducing the number of registered instances of the virus. Judging by statistics alone, Lithuania has done the best job at conducting preventive work, while Estonia, which last year scored 1,176 new cases, is languishing behind.

Generally, each Baltic country has its own set of risks in the fight against HIV/AIDS, as the article in this week's paper shows. However, experts agree that, regarding the spread of HIV/AIDS, the biggest threat facing the Baltics is its neighbors, particularly Russia. There the disease is proliferating with abandon, and as Radio Free Europe wrote last week: "Global experts and doctors working in Russia have long complained that when it came to the HIV/AIDS crisis, the Kremlin was living in denial." International organizations 's the United Nations, the World Bank 's have been pushing Russia to address the alarming epidemic, the article goes on to explain, but to no avail. "President Vladimir Putin has avoided the issue," it states.

It is a tragedy in the making. If in 1998 Russia had 11,000 HIV cases, now it has 314,000, a 30-fold increase. But that's only the official story. Russian and international experts agree that the real number is actually five times higher and amounts to 1.5 million, or 1 percent of the population. While this is a far cry from percentages seen in many African countries, it is a nightmare that, if unchecked, will drown everyone in the vicinity, Baltics included. Lithuania, which neighbors Kaliningrad, Russia's isolated province on the Baltic Sea that has the highest ratio of HIV infections in the entire country, is at particularly high risk.

What is to be done? If there is any issue that should bring the Baltics and Russia to the table, it should be HIV/AIDS. Both have an undeniable interest in checking the virus' spread, and perhaps the way to begin would be by creating a program for the regions of St. Petersburg, Pskov and Kaliningrad. It would be ridiculous to suggest that the Baltics could have a lasting impact on the world's largest country, but starting out by assisting neighboring regions would probably be the best idea.