Though Russia infiltrates U.S. headlines daily, one aspect of the country has received little coverage: its “staggering” HIV crisis. Reporting on Russia’s silent epidemic, CNN noted that more than half of new infections are a result of injection drug use and that the rate is increasing.
In 2015, according to data from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Russia had the third-highest number of new HIV infections globally, after South Africa and Nigeria. The Russian Federal AIDS Center reports that the infection rate has grown about 10 percent annually for the past five years.
More than 1.1 million people in Russian have been diagnosed with HIV, a situation that World Health Organization doctor Masoud Dara called “staggering.” What’s more, according to the CNN article, barely a third of those people are taking HIV meds. One woman with HIV interviewed in the story says she has been going to a government-run AIDS clinic for 14 years and has never received treatment. Recently, she said, she went to a doctor about an ulcer on her leg, and the doctor wouldn’t see her because of her HIV status. She’s also living with hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is not uncommon among injection drug users there.
Activists in the country told CNN that the epidemic has been growing for the past 15 years, largely as a result of neglected societal problems and questionable government policies, such as the failure to adopt harm reduction tactics, including clean syringe exchanges. Russia has also banned methadone clinics. The clinics offer safer substitutes for street drugs—in addition, methadone can be taken orally—but the government claims that the clinics promote addiction. Russia also interferes with nongovernmental AIDS agencies in the country that receive support from foreign sources such as Levi Strauss Foundation and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.
For related POZ articles, read “Surging Russian HIV Epidemic Drives Rise in New European Infections” and “Kremlin Report Says Condoms Are Causing Russia’s HIV Problem.”