- The latest figures released by the United Nations and
the WHO show that the deadly HIV virus is spreading through Eastern Europe
incredibly quickly. While the number of new cases in Africa has fallen
for the first time in years (3.6 million, compared with 4 million last
year), the number of HIV patients in Eastern Europe has nearly doubled:
from 420 thousand in 1999 to 700 thousand this year. In Russia in particular,
the UN and WHO describe the development of AIDS as `dramatic´.
- At the end of 1999, thirty thousand people were registered
as HIV-positive in Russia. Not such a huge figure for a country with a
population of 147 million. But by the end of October this year the number
of registered cases had doubled to more than 68,000. And the World Health
Organisation and the United Nations estimate that the real figure is many
times higher. Viktor Golikov, former director of the Second Moscow Hospital
for Infectious Diseases, is not surprised by the rapid increase of HIV
cases in Russia.
- "It began in 1995 with 180 HIV-positive patients
in Ukraine. The Ukranian security service then started a crackdown on infected
drug users, who fled to Moscow. Drug users here also became infected. At
the moment the virus is spreading like wildfire."
- According to Golikov, Russian drug addicts take enormous
risks, by sharing the same needles which become infected with each other's
- Political cynicism The alarming new figures mean that,
now more than ever, the hospitals in Moscow need expert leadership. But
the director of the Second Hospital for Infectious Diseases resigned at
the beginning of this year. Viktor Golikov was unable to continue seeing
AIDS patients denied the treatment they require. Not just because these
treatments are expensive, but because Russian politicians are not interested.
Viktor Golikov again:
- "The Russian authorities are extremely cynical about
this problem. In confidential conversations I had with various politicians,
most of them made it obvious that they don't see AIDS as much of a problem,
since the disease only affects marginal sectors of the population: homosexuals,
prostitutes and drug addicts. They don't understand that AIDS affects every
level of society. They also argued that the problem was still not very
great. They were only interested in big numbers. They believed they did
not need to act, that they could leave it to the next generation of polticians."
- Wrong expenditure The indifference of Russian politicians
has also meant that the majority of the budget for AIDS prevention is presently
spent on testing millions of people for AIDS, rather than on treating the
thousands who have the disease. Golikov argues that only genuine high-risk
groups should be tested for the AIDS virus; the rest of the budget should
be used to buy what are often expensive drugs.
- "Babies from HIV infected mothers, for example,
are treated all over the world. But not in Russia. Babies can be treated
immediately after birth, which greatly increases their chances of survival.
However, only babies born in the Second Moscow Hospital for Infectious
Diseases get this treatment. The others go to children's homes and the
state simply lets those children die."
- Golikov has now set up a patient organisation to inform
AIDS suffers and their friends and families how to deal with the illness.
And to alert the largely ignorant Russian public to the AIDS virus and
to the potentially disastrous consequences if they continue to act as though
the disease does not exist.
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