Russia (AFP) - A
week ago Masha, a 19-year-old heroin addict, found out
that she is HIV
positive. Now she fears she may have passed on the
deadly virus to her
boyfriend when he was back on army leave last
- "We had such a beautiful romance that month, I even
stopped injecting drugs. I just don't know what do to. Maybe I infected
him. One time we didn't use a condom," the thin dark-haired girl
- "I can't write to him there about my condition.
what that might drive him to," she said staring down at
- On the outskirts of the historic Siberian city of Irkutsk
a sprawling red-brick complex where a small AIDS centre and clinic
battling with a frightening explosion in HIV cases among young injecting
drug users who transmit the illness to each other by sharing contaminated
- Doctor Yulia Rakina, whose team of 36 physicians is responsible
for testing incidence of HIV among the three million people who live in
Irkutsk and the surrounding region, said they were struggling to cope with
- "We don't have the proper resources. The authorities
appear to have realised that the scale of the problem has changed
dramatically," she said.
- Unknown here before 1992, 37 cases of the HIV virus that
leads to AIDS were registered by January 1 last year.
- Twenty-three months later more
than 7,500 people have
been tested HIV positive -- a staggering 10,000
percent increase -- and
the figure is forecast to rise by another third
before the end of the year
- But because of fear and
self-denial among addicts, who
represent 95 percent of all HIV cases in
Irkutsk, the real statistics are
actually six times higher because few
of them are volunteering for tests,
according to Doctor Rakina.
- A region where an
estimated one quarter to a third of
young people aged from 15-25 are
using drugs, Irkutsk lies third behind
the Moscow region and the
Russian capital in the nation's HIV league table.
- Like other big cities where
drug abuse is closely tied
to HIV, the fear is that the disease could
soon begin to spread much faster
through unprotected sex, with condoms
rarely used by Russian youth who
nowadays experiment with multiple
- "We must learn how to deal with this situation.
vital urgency," admitted the head of Irkutsk's regional health
committee, Ludmilla Kitova.
- But the health chief insisted that the authorities'
policy of directing their budget towards testing for new
HIV cases and
treatment, leaving little money to fund vital prevention
- "We have very limited
resources. Our programme is
purely medical. We are ready to work with
international organisations in
this sphere but we would need a great
deal of money (from them),"
- Top officials from the United
Nations' anti-AIDS programme,
which is helping to launch prevention
campaigns in 17 Russian regions but
has been rebuffed in Irkutsk, say
this attitude is disastrously short-sighted.
- "A lot of money is going
down the drain. Money is
there which they are spending on testing. They
have to rethink how to reallocate
resources to prevention," said
the UN programme's coordinator Tatyana
- Despite 20 million tests a year
in Russia, which pointlessly
target low-risk groups, only 70,000 HIV
cases have been identified, she
- The money should instead be
spent counselling young people
how to avoid sexually transmitted
diseases and HIV infection, providing
addicts with clean needles and
distributing free condoms.
- International organisations for their part are not
to assume the responsibility for mounting such a campaign
because the aim
is to foster local initiative which will prove
sustainable in the long-term,
- "This is typical of the
fear and withdrawal that
we have observed in Russia in relation to HIV
and AIDS," commented
the UN official.
- Doctor Rakina agreed,
complaining that in post-Soviet
Russia, hostility towards a section of
society seen as delinquents and
misfits made it hard to persuade
decision-makers to spend scarce resources
on working with drug
- "It is very hard to win over the general population
those who don't work in this sphere, even the regional administration.
You have to make people understand that the key task is not even treatment
but prevention," she said.
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