Saturday, November 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Up to Four Percent of Novosibirsk Residents Said HIV Infected

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – As many as four percent of the  residents of Novosibirsk Oblast are estimated to be HIV infected and thus likely to develop AIDS, a rate approaching those found in some sub-Saharan African countries and one that constitutes a major health emergency in the Russian Federation as a whole, public health officials in that Siberian region say.

            But as bad as the situation is in Novosibirsk oblast, it is even worse in Irkutsk and Kemerovo Oblasts and is only slightly better in the Altay Kray and Tomsk Oblast, all of which are within the boundaries of the Siberian Federal District. Beyond that district, the situation in Sverdlovsk and Samara Oblasts are also worrisome (

            Not only is this a public health disaster, but the high costs of treating those with HIV/AIDS means that it is a major burden on the Russian budget. A simple calculation based on the figures provided in this article suggests that Moscow is spending upwards of 300 million US dollars per year on HIV/AIDS medication in Novosibirsk Oblast alone.

            Natalya Shulgina, a Novosibirsk specialist on HIV/AIDS, says that the number infected is not only high but rising, the result of more widespread diagnostics, on the one hand, but also of high levels of tuberculosis, which weaken the body’s ability to fight off the infection, and the spread of drug abuse by which the infection is spread, on the other.

            The first case of HIV/AIDS in Novosibirsk was identified in1990 in a man who had been infected during a trip to Mozambique. He died in 1995.  By the end of the 1990s, there were a total of 308 diagnoses of the disease there, Shulgina said, most of whom had contracted it by the sharing of needles for injection of illegal drugs. 

.           But over the last decade, she continued, the disease has spread beyond that high risk group.  One measure of this change: in 200, only two to three percent of those diagnosed with HIV were working; now, 33 percent of them are.

Treatment is available but it is very expensive, Shulgina continued.  The cost per patient per month ranges from 200,000 to 300,000 rubles (6000 to 10,000 US dollars) a month and more if the individual is suffering from additional diseases.  It is paid by the federal government exclusively, she added. Novosibirsk is currently treating 4,000 cases.

The medicines are effective, she pointed out. Before they were available, someone infected with HIV could expect to live on average only five to ten years.  Now, with therapy, such an individual could expect to live 20 to 25 years. The medicines have also allowed doctors to ensure that HIV-infected mothers do not pass on the disease. A decade ago, 30 to 50 percent of children born to HIV-infected mothers had HIV; now, the figure is 1.5-3.0 percent.

The biggest problem those with HIV have is the public stigma of the disease.  Many are afraid to tell anyone that they have the disease or even be checked to see if they do.  As a result, they remain untreated and more likely to pass it on to others.  The situation in this regard is improving, activists say, but the numbers in Novosibirsk are an indication of how much more needs to be done.

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