Tuesday, October 27, 2015

HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Russia ‘Out of Control,’ Health Minister Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 27 – The HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Russian Federation is growing “out of control,” according to Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova, as a result of which the number of HIV/AIDS cases in that country, already growing at about 10,000 new cases annually, is likely to increase by 250 percent over the next five years (interfax.ru/russia/475156).

            In part, this reflects cuts in government support for health care more generally; and in part, it is the product of the unavailability of many anti-retroviral drugs which are made only abroad and which are not being imported at present because of Moscow’s counter-sanctions and because of high costs.

            At present, Skortsova says, Russian doctors are able to treat only about one in five of the approximately one million now infected; and even when Russia begins to produce substitutes for now-unavailable foreign drugs, they will be able to treat only about one in five more. Consequently, the epidemic will expand.

            In an article in “Novaya gazeta” today entitled “A Deficit of Understanding,” journalist Anastasiya Ivanova describes some of the other factors that are promoting this epidemic, including not least of all the attitudes of many officials, businessmen, and even doctors (newizv.ru/society/2015-10-27/229604-deficit-ponimanija.html).

            “Although the virus has already spread not only among marginal groups of the population, its bearers as before continue to encounter negative stereotypes” in Russia, she writes. “Over the last month alone,” the Duma has considered refusing to register HIV-infected people for marriage and requiring fingerprinting of all those with HIV or AIDS.

             Last Friday, the deputies took up a government proposal which would allow foreigners infected with HIV to live in Russia if they have close relatives with residence permits. That would bring the country’s laws into correspondence with a recent Supreme Court decision, Ivanova points out.

            But there are problems beyond officialdom. Many businesses fire people as soon as they learn or even suspect they are infected with HIV; many doctors refuse to treat people for any illness if they learn that these people have the infection; and many governments are refusing to treat HIV-infected people unless they are legal residents of the district.

            That excludes most migrants and many others and means that in the absence of such treatment, these people are more likely to spread the disease thus reinforcing other prejudices about them.

            Russia’s unfortunate and counterproductive approach is especially obvious if one compares it with what Ukraine is doing.  Despite the war, Ukraine has “achieved significant success in the struggle against the spread of HIV over the last five years,” “Novaya gazeta” reports, noting that Kyiv has reduced mother to baby infections by a factor of seven and increasing the share of those infected receiving treatment by 20 times.

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