Experts suggest government efforts are sorely needed to provide education about HIV/AIDS to at-risk groups, especially among the young gay population.
Russia’s ongoing HIV crisis has reached a milestone of epic proportions—the 1 millionth confirmed case of the infection.
According to multiple media reports, it is estimated that some 850,000 Russians are currently HIV-positive, and more than 220,000 of the nation’s citizens have died from the disease and its complications since the 1980s. Officials believe there may be as many as 500,000 undiagnosed cases of HIV currently in the country.
Despite the chilling numbers, government officials, at all levels, are seemingly reluctant to initiate preventive measures and/or educational programs designed to stem the tide of cases, which has been linked with IV drug use. In fact, a report in The New York Times suggests that officials in the country are quick to deny that the situation has reached epidemic proportions.
As a result, Eduardo J. Gómez, PhD, a senior lecturer in International Development and Emerging Economies in the International Development Institute at King’s College London, who has written about the HIV situation in Russia and elsewhere, tells Contagion that he is “not at all surprised” that the country has reached the tragic mark. “Prevention and treatment policy has been poorly funded for several years,” he added. “There has been no stern effort by the government—federal and local—to reach at-risk groups for education about HIV/AIDS, especially among the young gay population. Some small non-governmental organizations have provided assistance, but there has been no strong government effort.”
Indeed, Vadim Pokrovsky, head of Russia’s Federal AIDS Center in Moscow, told the Times that analyses suggest that as many as 100,000 Russians have or will become HIV-positive in 2016 alone. While some of these cases have been linked with unsafe sex practices, many have been traced to IV drug use, which has been a growing problem in some of country’s remote, industrial cities, particularly those in Siberia.
Experts such as Dr. Gomez suggest the problems will only continue unless the government addresses the them, formally. “They need to prioritize funding and policy reform, including working with local schools and NGOs to provide educational information about HIV transmission and prevention,” he said. “Until [they do], and until key policies such as harm reduction and methadone treatment are implemented, the HIV epidemic will continue to spread.”
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.