While too often fear of spread of communicable diseases has been used by xenophobic participants in the constant immigration debate, it now has become a real issue for the flood of migrants reaching Europe.
The good news is that the United Nations AIDS program finds that new HIV infections overall had fallen by 35% since 2000, the peak of the three-decade-old pandemic. But the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [ECDC] and the WHO ]World Health Organization] Regional Office for Europe are reporting the greatest number of new HIV cases since reporting began in Europe in the 1980s. One world health expert calls it “a serious concern’” with more than 142,000 new cases last year alone.
The health authorities say that the increased transmission is largely heterosexual and transmission through drug injection is a primary cause. Rising numbers in Ukraine and Russia are leading the statistics with infected patients in a decade more than doubling. One controversial element is Moscow’s refusal to supply clean needles for drug users, something which is an off and on policy in most Western countries. Infection through contaminated syringes by drug addicts is one of the principal sources of infection.
The Russian authorities maintain that free needles would only encourage their already high rates of addition – the same argument which has beset the issue of drug abuse in the West. In fact, Moscow’s official attitude is what Lizzie Parry writing for the Daily Mail calls an ultimatum to drug users: give up addiction first, then you will receive care.
But while the new outbreak is reportedly mostly native-born in these countries, the increase is disproportionately ascribed to migrants who are only a fraction of the total population. They [and non-native Europeans] account for one third of the total.
The health authorities ascribe the basis of the increase to the isolation of the migrants from the general population.
‘When refugees and migrants are victims of social exclusion in receiving countries, they are at greater risk of HIV infection, and this may lead them to engage in risky behavior, increasing their risk for infection,” according to a WHO spokesman. “’This risk is exacerbated by inadequate access to HIV services and fear of being stigmatized.”
Yet, however valid this “sociological” explanation, any common sense examination of the issue has to treat larger if less well documented issues. There is a vast preponderance of young men among the migrants – many escaping forced participation in the various factions in the Syrian civil war and other neighboring conflicts. There is also common knowledge that the Syrians are being joined by other nationalities – sometimes refugees from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but many if not most seeking economic opportunities in the growing labor market scarcities in Europe. All, of course, take advantage of Western European – particularly German – well cushioned welfare net for the unemploted.
Spokesmen are uncharacteristically blunt about another factor in the rising tide of disease among the migrants. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Acting Director Dr Andrea Ammon said governments must find new ways to face the problem of contagion passed among males. Diagnoses among gay men have been rising at an alarming rate, from 30% in 2005 to 42% in 2014, with increases in all but six countries. Ammon said: ‘Europe has to scale up its efforts to reach out to this group. “This includes looking at new strategies such as pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV and access to care for EU citizens residing in other EU countries.”
All of this has implications for any American program for immediate admission of large numbers of the refugees or migrants, another complication in a very difficult decision. The pause Congress has called on the President to take now before further action is taken, again as we have urged earlier, a necessity.