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Children and AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

© UNICEF/SWZK00282/Pirozzi


The Eastern Europe and Central Asia region has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world.

An estimated 1.4 million people are now living with HIV, with around 210,000 newly infected in 2004.

Several countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus are in the early stages of the epidemic.

In parts of south-eastern Europe, the conditions are ripe for major epidemics among the young.

Deaths due to AIDS:

AIDS claimed 60,000 lives in the region in 2004.

In 2004, 1,100 children under 15 years old died from AIDS-related causes.

HIV infection among children and adolescents:

The epidemic has a young face. More than 80% of those living with HIV are under the age of 30 compared to just 30% in Western Europe.

There are over 8,000 children living with HIV in the region.

In 2004, more than 1,800 children under 15 were infected with HIV. Without treatment, half of them will die before their second birthday.

In Ukraine, 25% of those diagnosed HIV-positive are below 20.

In the Russian Federation – which accounts for 70% of those living with HIV in the region - 80% of the 860,000 people known to be infected are aged 15-29.

A study in St Petersburg showed that 33% of sex workers aged 15-19 were HIV-positive while another study from Irkutsk Oblast in the Russia Federation showed 65% of street injecting drug users to be HIV positive – 90% of injecting drug users were still in their teens.

Conservative estimates suggest that 70% of newly-reported HIV infections in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are drug-related. Most injecting drug users are young up to 25% are thought to be under 20.

Mother-to-child transmission:

HIV prevalence among pregnant women remains relatively low in the region.

In the Russian Federation, the percentage of women among people living with HIV has increased from 20% in 2000 to 43% in 2004.  Each day, more than 100 new HIV infections are registered, including 43 girls and young women.

In Ukraine, women now account for 40% of all registered cases of HIV.

In Russia, over 21,000 children have been born to HIV-positive mothers. They constitute 6.3% of all people living with HIV and over 2,000 children born to HIV-positive mothers have been abandoned or separated from their mothers.

Without preventive interventions, roughly one third of infants born to HIV-positive mothers will acquire HIV during pregnancy, labour or delivery or through breastfeeding.

The overwhelming majority of children under 15 who are HIV-positive were infected through their mothers.

In Ukraine, mother-to-child transmission fell from 27% of births to HIV-positive mothers in 2001, to 12% in 2003 and coverage has increased from 72% (2003) to 82% (2004) with increased capacity to monitor results.

Paediatric treatment:

One widely available antibiotic, cotrimoxazole, can nearly halve AIDS-related deaths among children. The drug costs as little as three U.S. cents a day.

Many children, some already diagnosed with HIV and others born to HIV-positive mothers but not yet diagnosed, need access to cotrimoxazole.

HIV-positive children have poor access to anti-retroviral therapy.

Across the region, an estimated 160,000 people (not only children) need antiretroviral therapy, but only 16,000 people have access.

Orphans and vulnerable children:

Up to 20% of children born to HIV-positive mothers in Ukraine may be abandoned by, or separated from, their mothers.

Each day in the Russian Federation, 20 children are born to HIV-positive mothers.

Living in isolated hospital wards, the development of these children is undermined.

Studies in the Russian Federation and Ukraine indicate that kindergartens and schools are not enrolling HIV-positive children.


The vast majority of young people do not have access to the information, skills and services that are essential for HIV prevention.

Prevention efforts still have low coverage. Less than 50% adolescents have access to adequate information on prevention compared with the UNGASS target of 90 %.

Less than 10% of young injecting drug users and people selling sex are being reached with interventions as against a coverage target of 80%.

Adolescents at greatest risk have a right to life-saving commodities: condoms for those who are sexually active, and clean needles and syringes for those who inject drugs.

Adolescents have a right to youth friendly health services.

For more information:

Angela Hawke, Communication Officer, UNICEF CEE/CIS, tel: (+4122) 909 5433, email:



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