At first, the authorities called it an “epidemic”, but later stepped away from that label.
Tatyana Savinova, the first deputy chief of Yekaterinburg’s health-care department, said on November 2 that she used the word “epidemic” in her earlier statement to express how medical personnel view the situation, adding that a HIV epidemic has not been officially announced in the city.
“In many Russian cities, you can speak about a generalized epidemic [that is it is not merely high-risk groups who have contracted HIV]. Only our officials think that if they don’t declare it an epidemic, there isn’t one. In fact we have had an epidemic for 30 years, [and] it’s gaining momentum. What is now being done in Russia is not enough to stop it.”
Another activist said that it was good that Ekaterinburg had made this information public, and their partial retraction was the result of the way the system works.
“Unfortunately, they are afraid to talk about HIV in the Russian regions…. this is tantamount to admitting poor performance (although it is not really the same thing). Officials fear they will be scolded for “inefficiency”.
Human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov wrote on Facebook:
In a city of 1.4 million inhabitants, 27,000 have HIV (1.9%).
By comparison, New York has 20 million [residents] – 113,000 have HIV (0.5%).
In the UK, 64 million [residents] – 107,000 with HIV (0.2%).
In the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal [there are] 10 million inhabitants. 4 million have HIV (40%). In general, 18% of the population of South African have HIV. But 50% of them receive treatment.
In Eastern Europe and Central Asia 1.5 million people are living with HIV, of which 1 million are living with HIV in Russia (0.7% of the population).
In Russia, only 120,000 people with HIV are getting treatment (only 12% of those identified).
The World Health Organization recommends that antiretroviral therapy be assigned each patient with HIV.
In Russia, [there are] 2.3 million injecting drug users [IDUs].
50% of all HIV cases [in Russia are caused by] dirty syringes. The second half are from heterosexual [intercourse].
Russia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are the three countries where substitution therapy is prohibited for drug users.
Civil society organizations working on HIV and drug addicts, are labelled “foreign agents” in Russia.
About 40 billion rubles from the federal budget each year is spent on the purchase of HIV medications. The only buyer is a subsidiary of Chemezov’s Rostec.
Chikov offers 6 suggestions out of the current situation:
The HIV epidemic can be controlled, if:
- Large-scale voluntary HIV testing is carried out;
- Strive for 100% [antiretroviral] treatment;
- Introduce replacement therapy;
- Promote safe sex;
- Support NGOs in this sphere;
- To work with vulnerable groups – drug users, sex workers, and men who have sex with men.