AIDS Explodes In Russia -
HIV Rate 'Fastest'
In The World
By Kristine Petrosian
(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 1987-96.
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 children."
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 human rights.
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 Norasco-Russia Journal


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