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

  1. Gene says:

    Putler will go down in history as the biggest dumb ass Russian ruler ever………hopefully not as genocidal as Stalin but another tyrant that this time will get his ass kicked by the western world.

  2. MJL says:

    So if this goes on any longer, there won’t really be any type of war or anything because Russia is actively destroying itself. no problem with that

  3. Steven says:

    There are disturbing similarities between Russia and America’s “Red” states….

  4. Olterigo says:

    Don’t worry, it will be soon. They are already trying to limit state endowment to go only to artists and projects that do not go against the “traditions/morals.”

  5. Olterigo says:

    Russian budget is already at the whim of the oil price rate.

  6. ronbo says:

    Reagan lives!

  7. FLL says:

    More fun and games today in Horlivka, Donetsk province. The caption under the photo: “Andrey Krischenko, chief of police in Horlivka, who was badly beaten after trying to hold off the mob as it seized the police HQ in the eastern Ukrainian city” (link to the Guardian article here). Guess it’s risky being a police chief in a region where Putin’s cossacks are flooding in from Crimea and elsewhere in Russia.

  8. FLL says:

    The same fundamentalist Christians that are the backbone of Putin’s support in Russia plainly reveal their agenda in photo after photo taken over the last few days in eastern Ukraine… always the Russian Orthodox crosses:

  9. FLL says:

    You wonder why Putin follows a homophobic agenda of denial and ignorance when confronting HIV/AIDS in Russia. One answer would be to look at his most vocal supporters here in the U.S., who are fundamentalist Christians like Scott Lively and Bryan Fischer. Here’s another answer in a photograph taken in Donetsk province in eastern Ukraine. This photo appeared in today’s New York Times (link here). The caption under the photograph reads: “Pro-Russian activists prayed on a bridge with a barricade set up in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk on Monday.” Meet the same fundamentalist Christian supporters as the ones in Russia who back Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law:

  10. Indigo says:

    Those stats do not suggest a progressive or prosperous community.

  11. Indigo says:

    That’s a shame, I hope it doesn’t catch on among the American Fundies; they could easily un-do significant medical advances with their ignorant candidates for public office.

  12. I couldn’t believe it when I read those life expectancy stats when researching this story yesterday.

  13. Badgerite says:

    Just watched first episode of Years of Living Dangerously which is a showtime series on climate change. I was wondering the same thing. How far they’re willing to go with this. Will it extend to thinking that Climate Change is a bunch of hooey also because it is the conclusion of the western scientific community?
    International treaties involving the world’s oceans? etc.

  14. FLL says:

    Deliciously off-topic, from yesterday’s Huffpo (link here):

    More Than 10,000 Protest In Moscow To Denounce Russian State Media Coverage Of Ukraine Crisis

    Hey, all you Putinistas in Russia, the U.S and, of course, Americablog comment pages! The relatively sophisticated population of Moscow is becoming keenly interested in the development of democracy and free speech in Ukraine. Putin’s nightmare’s may come true sooner rather than later. Yanukovych was first to get the boot. Guess who’s next?

  15. jomicur says:

    I find myself wondering how much of the phenomenon is due to right-wing authoritarian distrust of (not to say hatred of) science itself. Science, by which I mean the LAWS of science, is the one thing that can’t be controlled politically or militarily. Pretending that a scientific problem, such as AIDS or climate change, is really just a matter of social ills and politics is a neat way to avoid confronting and dealing with it. Science and technology that extend their control–nuclear weapons, NSA spying apparatus–is just peachy. The rest–problems that actually require them to do something– is, er, inconvenient.

  16. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    Yeah. It too seems to be a common feature in authoritarian cultures. Dare I say that there’s also a resemblance to the postcard art you’ll find in a Christian bookshop?

  17. FLL says:

    Heroic Realism as an art style was also championed by Hitler, although I believe he referred to it as Aryan Realism. Both styles exhibited pretty much the same features: muscular men, bosomy women, rosy-cheeked children, idyllic rural landscapes, und so weiter.

  18. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    It is genuinely fascinating to see how authoritarians of all stripes, coming from different directions, all tend to converge on similar policies and social attitudes. Blaming all social ills, real and imaginary, on cultural contamination is always a feature.

    I wonder if we’re going to see a new flowering of Heroic Realism in Russian art. You know, that style where’s it all bronzed muscular men and rosy-cheeked bosomy women under a blue sky, faces glowing with pride in Mother Russia.

  19. Hue-Man says:

    Putin’s War on Gays can only make matters worse. Any man – gay or straight – who shows up for HIV testing must automatically be gay, even though MSM accounts for 2% of HIV cases. Men don’t get tested for HIV so don’t get treated and continue to infect their sexual partners, fellow IV drug users, etc. The accelerating HIV infection rate is depressingly familiar.

    Another outcome that isn’t likely to improve: Male life expectancy 64.3 years Female life expectancy 76.1.

  20. Badgerite says:

    When the oil and gas runs out, or cheaper alternatives are found, Russia is going to be in deep shit. Ukraine or no Ukraine.

  21. FLL says:

    Germany today has adequate sex education in its school system. Below are the thoughts of a pro-Putin partisan from Dontesk, Ukraine regarding Germany’s efforts to provide fair and accurate sex education in the public school system. This quote is taken from an article in The Guardian from a few weeks ago (link here):

    “We want Russia,” added Sergey Samoshkin, who participated in a previous occupation of Donetsk’s regional administration and prosecutor’s office. Samoshkin currently lives in Moscow. He said he had returned to his native Donetsk two weeks ago.

    “There’s no democracy in Europe,” he told the Observer. “I’ve been to Germany. They give porno lessons in schools. It’s homosexual fascism. They impose their values on others.”

    For many centuries, Germany has been the main conduit of Western ideas into Russia. Catherine the Great was actually a German princess who married a Russian czar and learned Russian as a foreign language. I sense a real inferiority complex among the Putinistas. They cannot accept any good idea, whether HIV/AIDS prevention or anything else, if it comes from the West.

  22. 4th Turning says:

    and to add to the profound sadness of this preventable tragedy by extension-no possibility of access
    for our bros to medicines…

  23. FLL says:

    If this were the 1980s or early 1990s, the large number of closeted and homophobic Russian politicians would indeed be dropping like flies. However, since AIDS is manageable with adequate treatment, the number of closeted and homophobic Russian politicians who have AIDS will probably remain secret. That information might even qualify as a state secret of Putin’s regime.

  24. dommyluc says:

    Africa and Russia are examples of what would happen to this country if the fundies finally took over America. I remember reading an article in Harper’s years ago about the explosion of AIDS in Russia, because they have the same mindset there that the fundies and RW nutjobs had in America during the 80’s at the beginning of the AIDS crisis – that it’s only a bunch of fags, n***ers, and s**cs dying, so why the fuck should us pure, Jesus-lovin’ white people give a shit.
    I hate to sound vindictive, but I can’t wait for a large segment of the Russian and African homophobic politicians to begin dropping like flies. I will not be sending sympathy cards.

  25. bkmn says:

    So in summary Putin is following the African model for dealing with HIV – ignore it and spread misinformation.

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