Staunton, October 9 – Unlike in most modernized countries, Russia has not seen the HIV/AIDS epidemic ebb controlled by public health measures and powerful medicines. Instead, in the absence of both, more than a percent of all Russians and more than 3.3 percent of men between 35 and 39 are known to have the infection.
The situation is deteriorating, medical professionals say; but just how bad things are or may get are difficult for even experts to predict because Russian officials do not collect much of the data needed to determine the outlines of the epidemic and now at least some of them are hiding the data they do have, on the principle that if there are no numbers, there is no problem.
Iskander Yasveyev, a sociologist at the Higher School of Economics who specializes on health issues in the Middle Volga, reports on an especially disturbing example of this trend on the IdelReal webpage of Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service today ( ).
After the Tatarstan medical authorities collected data showing that rates of HIV/AIDS infection were especially high in some places, the republic health ministry “or the president of Tatarstan” decided that “citizens should not now about HIV infections in the Bugulminsk district of the republic” because they’re “significantly higher than in Russia as a whole.”
The authorities took the statistics down from the republic HIV/AIDS Center website, apparently oblivious to the fact that on the Internet most things are never entirely deleted. Yaveyev provides four pages of screenshots of the deleted information that underscores how bad things now are ( ).
While the situation with infections is relatively better in other parts of Tatarstan, the sociologist says, the data from this district show that all is now well and that claims that Tatarstan is doing better in combatting the epidemic than Moscow is are not justified. But to support these claims, the data have now been removed from direct public view.
Unfortunately, Yasveyev continues, some officials in Tatarstan have gone even further in trying to cover up what is going on. They have accused one AIDS activist, Timur Islamov, of being “a foreign agent” following his publications about the spread of HIV/AIDS in parts of the republic.
These approaches, the activist says, will only mean that the situation in the republic will get worse and that “Tatarstan instead of being the ‘leading’ region in the struggle with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, will this time show other Russian regions exactly how they should not behave.”