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Working To Prevent An AIDS Epidemic In Georgia

(Washington, DC -- June 3, 2003) Georgia's national AIDS coordinator said that "although infection rates of HIV/AIDS are currently low, experts have warned that if we do not take extreme measures in the near future, there will be an epidemic in our country." Dr. Tengiz Tsertsvadze, who is also the Director of the Georgian AIDS and Clinical Immunology Research Center, made the statement during a recent briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office.

Dr. Tsertsvadze outlined recent research and prevention work carried out in Georgia with funding provided by the U.S. Civilian Research Development Foundation (CRDF), an organization that supports scientists in the former Soviet Union. Utilizing CRDF funds secured in 1997, Tsertsvadze led a team of researchers from the United States and the Republic of Georgia that carried out two research projects into the prevalence, incidence, and risk factors for HIV infection in the region. Study results indicate there has been an increase in reported HIV/AIDS, with transmission patterns that resemble those of Eastern Europe.

Dr. Tsertsvadze attributes the escalating HIV infection rate primarily to growing intravenous drug use, as well as to migratory paths of refugee groups and cultural stigmas that allay against condom use. Psychological scars resulting from Soviet mandatory medical testing also militate against disease control, he said. "The practices led to human rights violations and created a crisis in public trust towards the medical establishment -- sick people tend to go underground." However, he added, CRDF's engagement in Georgia has enabled the nature of epidemiological surveillance to change -- monitoring has become more accurate and the public more willing to report infection.

These successful research and prevention efforts have drawn the support of the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health and cooperation from John Hopkins University, Walter Reed Hospital and other prestigious institutions in the U.S. In addition, USAID's Global Fund has provided a large grant that has allowed several dozen Georgian technicians to receive training in U.S. academies. Dr. Tsertsvadze said, "A great ocean separates Georgia and the United States, [but] CRDF has built a bridge over that distance and on the basis of that bridge, we are furthering bilateral relations."

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