Warnings, Worship Mark World AIDS Day

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By DAVID McHUGH
The Associated Press
Friday, December 1, 2006; 10:53 AM

BERLIN -- World AIDS Day was marked around the globe Friday by somber religious services, boisterous demonstrations and warnings that far more needs to be done to treat and prevent the disease in order to avert millions of additional deaths.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko conceded his country was losing ground in the race to curb one of Europe's fastest growing epidemics, saying 100,000 people have been officially registered as HIV-positive. Every day, 40 citizens of the former Soviet nation are diagnosed with HIV, and eight die from AIDS, Yushchenko said.

"Such figures are shocking," Yushchenko said in a published address timed to coincide with World AIDS Day. "We can't be indifferent to them."

UNICEF officials are warning of a public health catastrophe in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where 270,000 people are infected, some 90 percent of them through intravenous drug use.

"Eastern Europe stands at the threshold of an AIDS epidemic of catastrophic proportions, which can only be stopped through a broad-based educational campaign," said Dietrich Garlichs, German head of the United Nations Children's Fund.

In Moscow, dozens of believers joined in a prayer service at the small Russian Orthodox Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr. Women lit thin yellow candles tied with the red ribbons that symbolize the fight against HIV and AIDS, while priests led prayers.

The Russian Health Ministry said Russia hopes to provide equal access to antiretroviral drug therapy for all the HIV-infected. Chief epidemiologist Gennady Onishchenko said the number of officially registered cases of HIV in the country had reached 362,000. But international agencies and some Russian experts say the true number is closer to 1 million.

Activists allege that Russia has dragged its feet in battling the disease. Some scientists say the nation faces a devastating epidemic in the next decade if nothing is done, accelerating an already rapid decline in Russia's population.

In London, the day was marked by services in Westminster Cathedral and a concert by the London Gay Men's Chorus at St. Pancras Church.

In Copenhagen, artist Jens Galschioet put up an eight-foot sculpture of a crucified pregnant teenager outside Copenhagen's Lutheran cathedral. He called it a protest against the idea that "God allows nothing but chastity and unprotected sex."

City authorities gave the artist permission to erect the statue, named "In the Name of God," outside the cathedral.

Anders Gadegaard, the cathedral's dean, appeared to welcome the message. "It's a good supplement to the crucifix we have inside the church," he said.


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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