From Mon Dec 4 14:12:24 2000
Date: Sun, 3 Dec 2000 11:30:06 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: HEALTH-RUSSIA: On The Verge Of An AIDS Epidemic
Article: 110411
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

On The Verge Of An AIDS Epidemic

By Sergei Blagov, InterPress Service, 1 December 2000

MOSCOW Dec 01 (IPS)—An increasing number of Russians are falling prey to the HIV/AIDS virus, and Vadim Pokrovsky, director of the Institute for Preventing and Combating AIDS, says Russia can no longer forestall the “AIDS disaster”—because it is already happening.

However deputy health Minister, Gennady Onishchenko, says that while the situation in the Russian Federation is continuing to deteriorate, it is still not as dramatic “as in Africa or Asia”.

According to the World Bank's estimates, Russia is fortunate in that the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, is still at an early stage.

Pokrovsky says that more than 40,000 new cases of HIV infection have been reported in Russia since the beginning of this year brings the total number of registered cases to 71,500. However, according to UNAIDS statistics, a total of 130,000 people were infected with the virus at the end of 1999.

In April 1998, UNAIDS launched the World AIDS campaign in Moscow. The initiative—“Force for Change: World AIDS Campaign with Young People”—was aimed at increasing awareness of the devastating impact of HIV on the younger generation.

Experts also argue that the true number of infections are far higher than official figures suggest, and the real number could be six times higher than the Health Ministry's statistics, as the majority of people with HIV do not know that they have contracted the disease.

But Pokrovsky disagrees. “By my count, there are some 400,000 HIV-positive people in Russia now, or roughly tenfold, as compared with the total number of reported cases, he said. Pokrovsky argues that at the current rate of growth Russia could have up to one million infected cases in two years, and two million in three to four years.

Russian health officials blame the increase on drugs addicts using shared needles. They say 90 percent of those who have contracted the virus are intravenous drug users, mainly people below 30.

Nonetheless, the AIDS statistics in Russia are not yet as dismal as those in Africa and Asia. Even if a maximum figure of 400,000 HIV-positive people in Russia is accepted, it still amounts to little more than one percent of the worldwide HIV-infected population.

Although the absolute figures of people with HIV and AIDS in Russia is low compared with many other nations, health officials here are concerned by the rapid spread of the disease in Russia.

According to UNAIDS, Russia has the world's highest growth rate for AIDS. Nonetheless, the government has, so far, failed to respond with adequate resources. Since 1995, when Russia's Federal Programme to Combat AIDS was approved, the government allocated some five million US dollars a year to combat AIDS, but the money was never disbursed.

In 1999 Russia's Federal government disbursed 30 million rubles (roughly one million dollars) for its anti-AIDS program. This included treatment for AIDS patients and a public-awareness campaign directed at the country's youth. This year the authorities are set to disburse some 1.5 million US dollars.

UNAIDS has called on donors to allocate at least 20 million US dollars, over the next three years, to stem the epidemic in Russia.

The World Bank said last month that it was negotiating a 150 million US dollar loan for Russia for the AIDS program. World Bank spokesperson in Moscow, Marina Vasilyeva, told IPS that the loan was an unprecedented project for the World Bank in Russia, supported through a sizable loan of 150 million dollars, and that the negotiations would be finalised in early 2001.

She said the World Bank plans to support educational programs and preventative programs among drug users, commercial sex workers and the prison population.

However, Vasilyeva explained that part of the loan would be used to combat yet another plague across Russia—a tuberculosis epidemic—which has been rising steadily in Russia and the former Soviet Union since 1991.

There could be other AIDS-related problems, notably economic, experts warn. With 400,000 HIV-positive people in Russia now, there will be the same number of AIDS patients within the next 8-10 years and their treatment will require up to four billion US dollars a year, argues Pokrovsky.

But the real issue is that Russian legislation still stipulates the availability of free health care services, thus the government will either have to pay the bills, or amend the legislation. Furthermore, experts warn that with a backdrop of lacking funding, the health officials will have to choose who of the AIDS sufferers will be eligible for treatment, and who will not. This, correspondingly, could become a hotbed of discrimination and corruption.

As long as there is no vaccine or cure for AIDS, Pokrovsky said, the only viable method of prevention is stepping up health-awareness campaigns.

Public awareness in Russia regarding the danger of AIDS is still inadequate and many Russians still believe that it is somebody's else problem, Pokrovsky added.