@foreignpolicy features Russia's #HIV rates

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Yesterday, FP published an article on Russia's rising HIV rates, primarily driven by injection drug use:
Today, there are an estimated 1.5 million people who have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in Russia, which has a population of 140 million. Although the spread of HIV has been stemmed in sub-Saharan Africa, in Russia the rate of HIV infection is rising 10 to 15 percent each year — a pace comparable to the infection rate in the United States in the 1980s, when the basic biology of HIV was poorly understood and the antiretroviral drugs used to treat the disease were years away from discovery. And the uncontrolled rise of the disease is unlikely to abate in the foreseeable future, as the Russian government firmly rejects scientifically tested policies out of apathy and political expedience.
Needle exchange programs in Russia...currently receive almost no funding. Until 2009, needle exchange programs had been widely available, mostly with financing from the Global Fund, a public-private consortium that is the world’s largest financier of HIV projects. But when that agency’s money was withdrawn in 2010 — largely because Russia had achieved the status of a high-income country — Moscow did not replace funding, and the number of needle exchanges in the country dropped from 80 to 10.
Russia’s zero tolerance drug policy reflects, in part, a strain of social conservatism running through the country that views drug use as a personal moral failing. “Methadone is considered in the same category as tolerance to gays — rotten Western practices,” said Sergey Lukashevsky, the director of the Sakharov Center, a Moscow-based facility for discussion on Russian culture and history.

This perspective — which paints the problem as a foreign-imported plot — is inflamed to build support for the government.
To HIV prevention specialists, this is not exactly news; in fact, I featured a piece on the same topic by the BBC a year and a half ago. But I was pleased to see it featured in a high-profile publication.

I was very interested to see that the pace of increase of new infections is strikingly similar to that of South Korea's new HIV infections, and the government response shares a lot of features with Russia's, including a lack of interest in evidence-based prevention strategies and socially conservative views that promote the idea that infection is the result of moral degeneracy.

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