AIDS Epidemic in Russia: Health Minister says situation is spiralling out of control
Experts fear that HIV epidemic in Russia could get out of control
Experts believe that the severity of the situation is underestimated
Russia and some other countries of the former USSR may face an HIV epidemic spiraling out of control.
This forecast was made by experts after the publication of data on a record number of new infections last year..
Most new infections in the former USSR in 2017 were from heterosexual intercourse as the disease spread beyond high-risk groups.
Such data are contained in a joint study by WHO and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control..
The increase in the rate of emergence of new diagnoses in the region since 2012 occurs against the background of a global decrease in the incidence. According to Masoud Dara, HIV specialist at WHO, this may be “the first sign that the disease is beginning to affect the general population.”.
“HIV starts in key populations like drug addicts, sex workers, men who have sex with men, but it grows exponentially if left unchecked,” Dara told Reuters.
According to official data, more than 104 thousand new HIV diagnoses were made in Russia in 2017, bringing the total number of cases of the disease to more than 1.2 million..
According to experts, the severity of the situation may be underestimated..
“We do not have enough medicines, we do not treat every patient,” says Nikolai Lunchenkov, a doctor at the Moscow Regional AIDS Center. “We are increasing the number of patients who receive antiretroviral therapy, but this is still not enough.”.
The number of HIV treatments purchased by the Russian authorities rose 37 percent last year to about 360,000. This data is provided by the NGO Treatment Preparedness Coalition..
Studies have shown that methadone helps prevent HIV transmission among injecting drug users, but the drug is banned in Russia.
“We also have insufficient data on men who have sex with men because of the high level of stigma,” says Lunchenkov, who is openly gay..
According to official figures, the number of Russian men who acquired HIV through sex with other men more than doubled between 2008 and 2015, reaching 695.
Discrimination against LGBT people means people at risk are afraid to get tested and seek treatment, experts say.
In 2016, Russia was ranked second from the bottom in terms of friendliness towards LGBT people in the ranking compiled by ILGA-Europe, a network of European LGBT organizations..
Since 2012, some international NGOs working in Russia have been required to register as “foreign agents”, which has led to a decrease in the number of organizations working with populations vulnerable to HIV, says British HIV researcher Oli Stevens.
“It was a very clear message: men who have sex with men are not ‘us’, they are ‘others’, they are not part of the society we are trying to build,” Stevens says..
In the rest of the former Soviet Union, the number of new cases among infected drug addicts dropped by 45 percent in a decade, to 6,218, while the number of new cases of heterosexual transmission of the virus increased by 59 percent, to nearly 18,000..