- (Norasco-Russia Journal) - Russia is witnessing explosive
growth in the rate of HIV infection, with the number of registered cases
in the third week of May this year equaling the entire 10-year period from
the beginning of perestroika.
- The total number of people now registered as HIV positive
is 42,000, of which 800 are children, according to the Health Ministry.
However, some believe the real figure could be between 200,000 and 300,000.
- Officials reported that in the third week of May, 1,542
new cases of HIV were reported, equaling the number of cases reported from
- Whatever the raw numbers are, experts say the greatest
concern is the trend in the rate of those being diagnosed HIV positive.
- "Russia now has the fastest growth rate of HIV infection
in the world," said Vadim Pokrovskikh, Director of the Federal Center
for AIDS Prevention.
- And experts from the center said the situation is likely
to worsen: The annual number of HIV-related deaths in Russia is expected
to climb to 100,000 in the "near future" and the number of those
infected in the next two years to reach more than a million people.
- According to Gennady Anishchenko, the deputy health minister,
the virus is spreading in a "geometrical progression," largely
because 75 percent of those infected are age 15-29 the most sexually active
part of the population.
- The AIDS Prevention Center's Pokrovskikh said he expected
some stabilization in the infection level once the figure reaches 1 million,
pointing to the United States, which experienced a similar stabilization
when their infection level reached 2.5 million the "saturation level."
- "Russia is still in the early stages of the spread
of AIDS," he said. "About 90 percent of those with HIV are intravenous
drug users, and in the near future, virtually all of them will be [AIDS
cases]. After that, there will be a pause, but then there will be stage
two, when the sexual transmission of the disease will increase."
- He said the number infected from sexual intercourse would
be huge, because sex is much more common than intravenous drug use.
- "Then comes the next stage, what is called vertical
transmission,," he added, "when mothers pass on the virus to
- In terms of the regions where the rate of HIV infection
is most prolific, Moscow, Moscow Oblast and Irkutsk account for 70 percent
of cases registered in 1999, officials said. The Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad
has the highest rate of infection, however.
- Officials are concerned about the lack of urgency among
the population about the scale of the problem.
- At a press conference, Federal Health Minister Yury Shevchenko
lashed out at certain sections of the media for ignoring the figures and
for "trying to pretend that Russia does not have an AIDS problem."
- "In reality," he said, "the situation
is so critical that wartime rules need to be applied: We must think of
healthy [uninfected] people."
- Some 1,000 screening laboratories and 500 consulting
rooms carry out HIV tests for 20 million Russians annually, placing burdens
on the federal budget, officials said.
- However, although testing is important, officials also
say some regions are becoming overzealous about testing introducing mandatory
tests for certain groups and, according to some observers, violating basic
- A case singled out is the Amurskaya region, where people
applying for entry into a retirement home must pass an HIV test. Indeed,
in many regions, people who have been in contact with an HIV carrier are
required to undergo tests.
- In response, the Health Ministry decided to ban mandatory
testing if suspects show no clinical symptoms.
- A federal Anti-HIV/AIDS program is set to start in 2002.
The current program, begun in 1996, has cost 3,778,000 rubles and is slated
to end this year.
- Many experts are concerned about what will happen in
the interim year, 2001. Shevchenko said the Economics Ministry has agreed
to extend financing of the current program through next year though some
are concerned this may not in fact happen, due to a shortage of funds.
- The Russia Journal (C) 2000 http://www.russiajournal.com
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