Staunton, October 23 – The Russian government’s promotion of “obscurantism” and discrimination against high risk groups is why there are an estimated two million people are suffering from HIV and AIDS in that country, and Moscow’s opposition to changing course is why their number is likely to increase and more will die, Ilya Varlamov says.
In an Ekho Moskvy commentary entitled “How the Obscurantists are Destroying Russia,” the Moscow writer says that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is the product of hostility to homosexuals and drug users and the presence in senior government positions who call for “curing people with holy water” rather than medicines (echo.msk.ru/blog/varlamov_i/2078478-echo/).
A recent conference in Berlin of HIV/AIDS experts noted that last year, the number of new HIV cases in Russia registered with the authorities had passed the 100,000 mark. The Western specialists said they were convinced that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe now threatens those countries and Western European ones as well.
The experts drew on UN figures which show that between 2010 and 2016, the number of HIV/AIDS cases fell by 29 percent in Africa and by nine percent in North America and Western Europe but in Eastern Europe and Russia and Ukraine dominated that figure, it rose by 60 percent over the same period.
The specialists described this as “a catastrophe’ and offered to lend their expertise, something the Russian government has rejected or at least restricted. Russia under Putin “prefers to struggle with the illness by propagandizing family values,” something that statistics show does not work nearly as well as medical intervention.
“The root of all problems, the specialists see in discrimination against those in high risk groups, above all drug users and homosexuals. [In Russia] hatred to these groups is pushed almost at the state level. And therefore it would be strange in such a situation to expect any real help from bureaucrats.”
Some Russian officials are aware of this problem. Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal Center for Combatting HIV/AIDS, says that “recently in Russia, the religiosity of the population has intensified and sometimes taken very conservative forms which do not correspond to the contemporary development of society.” Western experts concur.
It seems to be the case, Varlamov says, that “Russian bureaucrats think that if you’re not a gay or a drug user, then HIV will pass you by,” and that if Russia gets rid of these groups, it will “again become healthy and happy.” But that is nonsense: During the first half of this year, more Russians became infected by heterosexual contact than by other means combined.
Officially, there are a million people in Russia infected with HIV and AIDS, one in every 140. But in some places, the number is as great as one in every 20 or five percent. Many don’t know they are infected and so do not seek treatment early on when a cure is most possible. And so the best estimates are that there are about two million Russians suffering from this disease.
If they had a government that was concerned about their fate rather than pushing obscurantism, far more of them would live.