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Russia's AIDS Epidemic Keeps Rising

Government frowns on proven methods such as needle exchanges and opiate substitution.

12 June 2018

Russia’s HIV/AIDS problem is going backwards. Unlike in many other countries, the virus is spreading there, in part due to high-level decisions over the years, U.S. public broadcaster PBS says.


The annual death toll from AIDS could soon top 30,000. Russia already accounts for 80 percent of HIV infections in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.


Among the highest casualties are injecting drug users, who are often completely ignored even though the at-risk group is the catalyst for Russia’s epidemic. Research indicates that in some cities, 30 percent of people who inject drugs are HIV-positive.


“This is a very large and very serious epidemic, and certainly one of the few epidemics in the world that continues to get worse rather than get better,” said Vinay Saldanha, the Moscow-based regional director for the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “This is a public health crisis,” he added, Science reports.


Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal Scientific and Methodological Center for Prevention and Control of AIDS, estimates that between 1.1 million and 1.4 million Russians are infected with HIV. These estimates are backed by a recent study led by Michel Kazatchkine (pictured), the United Nations Secretary General’s special envoy for AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which concluded that the number of infected people may be as high as 2 million.


Critics point to the Russian government’s lack of a comprehensive plan to minimize and contain the virus. A decade ago, Kazatchkine and colleagues implored the government to provide funding for “harm reduction” strategies, which include needle and syringe exchange programs, as well as opiate substitutes such as methadone.


These methods have been stifled in Russia, according to The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.


Opiate substitutes remain illegal in Russia, being branded as a “Western” idea running against the grain of traditional Russian culture, Science writes.


Russian authorities “basically let the epidemic grow because of lack of prevention and because of very low access to treatment,” Kazatchkine said. “In short, they did it all wrong.”



  • Parts of Europe continue to struggle with a measles outbreak, particularly Romania, where around 200 cases have appeared every week since 2016, according to Daily Sabah. Critics say it is no coincidence that Romania’s vaccination rate is one of the lowest in Europe, less than 84 percent. The World Health Organization recommends a 95-percent rate.


  • In 2016, the rate of HIV infection in Russia was rising by 10 to 15 percent a year, a rate comparable to the United States at the height of its AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, Foreign Policy wrote.
Compiled by Tyler Haughn
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