AIDS Crisis in Russia is Ballooning
As the global economic recession continues to decrease the health care budgets of many countries preventive health care budgets are increasingly being targeted for cuts. Funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment are only marginally increasing or remain frozen despite increasing need. While traditionally prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS were viewed as two separate entities, new research has shown that aggressive and early treatment of HIV positive people can help them live longer lives, and appears to drastically decrease the transmission of HIV, http://.
Thus it appears more important than ever that HIV/AIDS treatment programs receive adequate funding as they may also be preventing huge numbers of new cases of HIV.
However, the decision to fund such programs can be affected by a variety of factors, and despite the age old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, many such programs remain under funded. This is potentially worrisome as a lack of treatment for HIV could potentially lead to the worsening epidemic in certain countries, such as Russia.
It is estimated that 1.1% of Russians are HIV positive. And incidence rate of 1% or higher is generally considered a severe epidemic. Furthermore, the epidemic in Russia has been rapidly expanding, the prevalence of HIV has approximately doubled since 2001. Contributing to this rapid increase are higher rates of injection drug use. Approximately 60% of new cases of HIV in Russia are due to the sharing of dirty needles between intravenous drug users. In addition, heterosexual sex accounts for approximately 2/3 of new HIV infections and women. And many of these women are infected by partners who are intravenous drug users.
Harm reduction measures such as needles exchange programs have experienced cuts in their budgets, and only are available to a very small percentage of intravenous drug users in Russia.
In addition stigmatization of homosexuals and intravenous drug users could be hiding a larger HIV epidemic than what Russian officials are willing to admit to. Heroine users are often arrested when attempting to buy clean syringes in pharmacies, and substitutes, such as methadone, are not legal in Russia.
Approximately 2 million Russians are addicted to heroine, and public health officials believe that Russia is not doing enough to educate the population. While the HIV/AIDS epidemic is surging in Russia, it is somewhat concentrated in intravenous drug using populations, though experts believe that a more generalized epidemic is a possibility.
Although the Russian response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic has been dangerously sluggish, the country has recognized and is addressing the large quantities of heroine which flow through its border with Afghanistan. Russia has criticized President Obama’s decision to not spray poppy fields in Afghanistan, reasoning that this only hurts smaller farmers who raise poppies for heroine production, instead of hurting the Taliban. Afghanistan grows approximately 90% of world’s opium poppies.