2005-12-01-Russia wakes up to Aids epidemic

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2005-12-01-Russia wakes up to Aids epidemic

 

In Russia, the young are being hit hardest by the HIV/Aids epidemic.
Serj Horoshikh is one of 20,000 people living with HIV in Moscow alone.

He got infected 10 years ago, aged 18.

He told me he had been injecting drugs at the time.

"There was zero information. Aids was just an abbreviation, it didn't mean anything," he said.

"All people of my generation who were injecting drugs got infected. No one escaped."

For people like Serj, there was little help from the authorities, who were in virtual denial that Aids could exist in Russia.

What official resources there were available focused on treatment not prevention.

Serj is now working for an Aids charity, providing information through his internet magazine to thousands of people across Russia.

According to official statistics, at the end of last year Russia had around 340,000 registered people living with HIV. But it is widely acknowledged that the figure could be at least four times higher.

To date, more than 7,500 people have died of Aids in Russia. The rate of infection is spiralling upwards.

Women at risk

Russia now has the fastest-growing Aids epidemic in Europe - every day 100 new HIV positive infections are registered.

The problem is no longer limited to injecting drug users.

The disease is moving into the wider population. And it is women who are being hardest hit.

Last year, roughly 40% of all new registered cases of HIV were women, most of whom are of childbearing age.

Up until recently, the Russian government was spending less than 10 cents per person every year on Aids prevention programmes. But things are beginning to change.

At the launch of the UN Aids report last week, the head of Russia's federal Aids programme, Vadim Pokrovsky, confirmed that the government will massively increase its Aids budget next year.

"Now our president and our government have promised to spend 10 times or 15 times as much money for the struggle against HIV infection and we hope that at the end of next year we can announce that there will be some success," he said.

Russia, it seems, is finally waking up to the problem. It cannot afford to be complacent any more.

But it will take more than just money to change attitudes and raise awareness about a disease that will eventually claim many more thousands of lives.

 

 


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