Governments of countries of the European Union are turning to the traditional dispensers of charity - Christian churches - to address the suffering of HIV/AIDS patients. In Germany, for example, projects run by both Catholics and Protestants are providing a network of community support in which HIV/AIDS patients know they will not be judged for their risky behavour. Protestant Pastor Dorothea Strauss set up Church HIV Positive, an ecumenical initiative that provides pastoral care for those with HIV/AIDS and their families, in 1993. The experience of a friend and fellow pastor dying from AIDS-related illness was part of the motivation for the project.

In Russia, where Christian churches were long suppressed by the government, HIV/AIDS sufferers are also turning to Christians for help. As the number of people suffering from HIV/AIDS continues to grow in Russia, government agencies are turning to the Russian Orthodox Church for help in stemming the epidemic, ministering to its victims, and fighting their stigmatization by society. In the latest example of such cooperation, officials in the Ryazan region, about 120 miles southeast of Moscow, announced on November 30 that they have requested the local diocese's assistance in providing an approach to the crisis that is beyond the state's capacity. 

December 1 was World AIDS Day, being noted by the UN as well as the Vatican.

The United Nations' World Health Organization (WHO) says Eastern Europe and Central Asia continue to show "dramatic growth" in the number of HIV infections. WHO says new infections in the region have increased by 250 percent from 2001 to 2010. Some 90 percent of the infections in the region occur in just two countries: Russia and Ukraine.
 
The UNAIDS organization intravenous drug use remains the leading cause of HIV infection in Eastern Europe and Central Asia , while saying "considerable" transmission also occurs among the sexual partners of people who inject drugs. UNAIDS declared that after slowing in the early 2000s, HIV incidence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has been accelerating again since 2008. Unlike other regions, AIDS-related deaths continue to rise in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
 
A UNAIDS report praised Iran, saying HIV prevalence has "declined steadily" in the country since peaking in 2005, ostensibly because of Iran's efforts to address health problems among injecting drug users. Narcotics are illegal in the Islamic Republic, as is homosexual behavour. Homosexuals, especially men, have been subjected to capital punishment in Iran, usually by hanging. The report says there is a network of more than 600 clinics that address drug injection, HIV and sexually transmitted infections in Iran, and that authorities have implemented programs to provide clean needles and opioid substitutes to injecting users. The report says an estimated 15 percent of people who inject drugs in Iran are living with HIV.
 
The UN says the number of new HIV infections fell to 2.7 million in 2010, down from 3.1 million in 2001. The UN says HIV/ AIDS have killed more than 25 million people over the past three decades. It says approximately 34 million people were living with HIV in 2010.
 
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), at its most advanced stage of infection, becomes AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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