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Back to Magazine Homepage. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have the fastest-growing HIV rates in Central Asia, fuelled by people sharing needles to inject drugs trafficked from Afghanistan into Russia. Since the Red Crescent Societies have mobilized thousands of volunteers to spread the prevention message to drug users, sex workers and communities most at risk. Nervously, two women approach Sasha as he hands over the bag to help them with their work.
It sticks to you, preventing you from ever washing yourself clean. Urla is HIV-positive and one of the 20 or so women Sasha will talk to over the next few hours about practising safe sex, using clean needles and getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases. A combination of history and geography has conspired against this depressed mining town where half the population is unemployed.
After the collapse of communism in the early s, many steel workers left for Russia and Ukraine, only to return to Termirtau later. Many, however, came back from their time abroad with HIV. And with new drug-trafficking routes opening up from Afghanistan across Central Asia to Russia and Europe after the fall of the Taliban regime in , the spread of HIV through needle sharing has compounded the situation in Termirtau.
But the problem is not just particular to Termirtau. Kazakhstan has the highest rate of infection in Central Asia, with HIV reported in all its major cities. In the past decade, the number of those infected has risen to 6, from , although unofficially the number is believed to be at least three times higher. Three-quarters of those infected are injecting drug users who share needles and, in a country with an estimated , heroin users and 20, sex workers, many of whom take drugs, the Kazakh Red Crescent Society has made HIV prevention one of its priority programmes.
Peer education has proved to be the most effective approach. According to Sasha, his background gives him credibility among those he helps. I got infected with HIV at Since the Kazakh Red Crescent started peer education in , 56 sex workers and two former drug users have become volunteers.