Epidemic in Russia: Fighting HIV where no-one admits it's a problem

International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day in Moscow, 2011

International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day in Moscow, 2011

Source: BBC

The phrase “Aids epidemic” awakens distant memories in most of Europe, Australia or the Americas, where infection rates have generally been in decline for years. But as former UK Health Secretary Lord Fowler explains, the phrase is not used in Russia either – despite failed policies that have allowed infection rates to soar.

For years Russia has remained remarkably silent on the challenge it faces from HIV and Aids. Now that silence has been broken by an epidemiologist who has been working in the field for more than two decades – and he calls the situation “a national catastrophe”.

Vadim Pokrovsky, the softly spoken head of the Federal Aids Centre in Moscow, has watched as the figures have climbed remorselessly upwards.

There are about one million people living with HIV today in Russia and year on year the rate of infection is rising, unlike sub-Saharan Africa where the rate of increase is slowing. This is according to Russia’s official figures, which almost everyone agrees are a substantial underestimate of the true position.

Last year some 90,000 Russian people contracted HIV, compared with fewer than 3,000 people in Germany, which has one of the lowest rates of HIV infection in Europe. Germany’s population may be half the size of Russia’s but the difference here is a factor of 30.

“We need to spend 10 times more on prevention,” Pokrovsky told me recently. “We need many more resources and we need some political decisions – and changes in the law in connection with methadone and the private lives of individuals.”

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Categories: Biology, Health, Preventive Medicine

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