HIV/AIDS explodes in Russia as Putin eschews “western” science

The number of new cases of HIV in Russia has exploded in recent years, as the Russian government has increasingly shunned all-things-western, including scientific expertise in curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Particularly troubling in Russia is the increasing rate at which heterosexuals are now contracting HIV, a sure warning sign of a possible spread of the disease to the general population.

The heterosexual spread of AIDS has been a huge problem in Africa. Why? Because countries have far greater numbers of heterosexuals than they do gays or IV drug users, the other usual high-risk categories, so you risk the disease breaking out in the general population, which makes it much harder to control.

Increase in new Russian HIV cases, while world on average sees decrease

Russia saw around a 13% increase in new HIV diagnoses in 2012, and a 10% to 11% increase in 2013. By contrast, Ukraine, which also has a serious HIV problem, saw in 2012 the first drop in new cases since 1999.  And that’s the general trend worldwide.  Here’s a chart from UNAIDS that shows that overall the number of new cases of HIV infection has been dropping every year for over a decade.


Al Jazeera noted that HIV is spreading “five times faster in Russia than the global average.”

58% of new cases from IV drug use, as much as 40% from heterosexual sex

Around 58% of those new Russian HIV infections are from IV drug use – Russia has one of the worst heroin problems in the world (and then when the government tried to stamp out heroin use, everyone switched to an even worse drug, the flesh-eating narcotic krokodil, so named because it makes your skin scaly like a crocodile’s, before your skin falls off entirely).

Another 33%-40% of Russia’s new HIV infections are from heterosexual sex.

And only 1%-2% are reportedly from men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM). Russia is also a supremely homophobic country, and growing more so by the day, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s been underreporting of new HIV cases from MSMs who claim they only slept with women.  Having said that, the experts are worried that heterosexual transmission is growing significantly in Russia.

Russia rejects needle exchange and methadone, guaranteed ways to cut the number of new infections

Adding to the fun, Russia doesn’t believe in modern AIDS science, since it thinks such science has been polluted by the West, so it prefers to tackle HIV the old-fashioned way – with ignorance, indifference, and snake oil.

For example, Russia refuses to embrace two of the top strategies for combatting the spread of HIV: needle exchange (so addicts don’t share used needles), and methadone (as a method of weaning addicts off of heroin altogether).  The country leaves needle exchange to NGOs, refusing to fund them, while banning methadone treatment altogether.

Ukraine, on the other hand, has embraced both needle exchange and methadone use, and as noted above, saw its rate of new cases drop in 2012 for the first time in a long time.

So what did Russia do when it invaded Ukrainian Crimea and then annexed it earlier this year?  They banned methadone.

One methadone-user in the Crimean city of Sevastopol voted for Crimea to join Russia, and now seems genuinely surprised that Russia is kind of a nasty place for people like him:

[Methadone user Sergei] Kislov, who voted for his region to join Russia, accused Moscow of “abandoning” Crimea’s recovering addicts and “forcing them to fend for themselves, even if that means we’ll end up stealing again and going to jail.”

To avoid withdrawal and a possible relapse, Crimean rehab patients are now left with two options: relocate to mainland Ukraine to continue their methadone therapy or quit cold turkey in a Russia-run facility.

Russia’s problem is Putin’s aversion to all things “western”

Michel Kazatchkine, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia told Bloomberg (in an excellent story worth a read on its own) that the problem is the Putin government’s aversion to all things western.

“There is a climate of suspicion about everything that comes from the West — and the U.S. particularly,” Kazatchkine told Bloomberg. “I don’t see much progress coming in Russia unless it changes quite radically. It’s so shocking. The nation’s HIV policies result in death and suffering that could be avoided.”

And that climate of suspicion has made Russia now reject international AIDS funding that it once took.

From the Pulitzer Center: “Russia was once a recipient of funds from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria—the world’s premiere non-governmental organization in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS—but it now rejects that assistance, largely because it doesn’t want to follow international protocols for fighting the disease, such as distributing clean needles to injection drug users. Nongovernmental organizations that advocate harm-reduction strategies—needle exchanges, providing condoms to sex workers—face police harassment and criminal penalties.”

And that paranoia has led the Russian government to target NGOs, including organizations that work in HIV prevention, alleging that they’re “foreign agents.”  Among those being targeted is a group that carries out HIV prevention.  That, and Russia’s new homophobic “propaganda” legislation, will only make it harder for local advocates to address Russia’s growing HIV problem.

Little to no sex education in Russian schools

A few months ago, a new strain of HIV was reported in Russia, one that is “spreading at a rapid rate,” and appears to be more virulent than any other strain the Russians have faced so far.

And while, according to the Moscow Times, Russian schools offer “little or no sex education,” fret not. The Putin regime’s top children’s advocate says he’s got everything under control.

Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights advocate, said in September that he opposed teaching teenagers about sexual health in school, adding that Russian literature is “the best sex education there is.”

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CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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