The political revolution that so dramatically brought freedom to Eastern Europe has a dark underside for specialists in the disease AIDS. A combination of three factors that accompany the political changes ``is going to lead to an increased vulnerability'' to the disease in Eastern Europe, says Dr. Jonathan Mann, director of the World Health Organization's AIDS project. They are: the great surge in travel by East Europeans, relaxation of social mores toward illicit drugs and sexual practices, and the region's continued economic inability to provide adequate medical equipment to prevent contamination.
Most of Eastern Europe has been free of AIDS, with the most dramatic exception of babies in Romania. But now ``we're seeing the beginnings of'' a rise in AIDS in Eastern Europe that could approach West European levels. By best estimates 500,000 West Europeans but only 10,000 to 30,000 East Europeans have the virus physicians say leads to the illness, Dr. Mann says.
The situation is not unrelievedly bleak, Mann says. One asset: the desire of East Europe's new political leaders to deal with the problem rather than cover it up.
Another advantage: Adequate time exists to prevent Eastern Europe from succumbing to its AIDS vulnerability. But money as well as technical assistance will be required, in a time when many nations are looking for funds. The World Health Organization (WHO) is providing both to nations of the region and anticipates providing longer-range planning.
On Feb. 27, WHO representatives and all East European nations began meeting in Copenhagen to ``put the finishing touches on our [AIDS] plan for Eastern Europe,'' Mann says. If they succeed, and find the funds to carry out the program, ``We'll be limiting the AIDS epidemic in the '90s.''