Is there an HIV Epidemic in Russia?

Dear Readers:

This post came out of a discussion on Paul Robinson’s blog, from whence I got this link from the Liberal newspaper “Kommersant” concerning the HIV problem in Russia.  The article was written on 14 May 2015.

I place this post in a new category which I started on my blog, called “Medicine and Health”.

And now, without further ado, onto the business of translating/paraphrasing the Kommersant piece, which is entitled:

In Russia, the Number of HIV-infected people is greater than in all of Europe combined


By the end of this year [2015], the number of HIV-infected people in Russia will reach one million.  That is according to the prognosis of Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal Scientific Center for Prophlactics and Fight Against AIDS.

“Kommersant” correspondent Alexander Chernykh spoke about this issue and paraphrased Pokrovsky’s findings, on the radio news show of Anna Kazakova.  Apparently, the majority of HIV-infected are people in the age group 30-35.  Most of them, at some point, used heavy narcotics.  If continuing at the same pace, the number of infected people will reach 2 million by 2019.

According to Chernykh, Pokrovsky characterizes the HIV infection rate in Russia as virtually an epidemic.  Russia is one of the few countries in the world, where the infection rate is actually going UP.  And by a fast rate, too.  In fact, among all (Russian) men in the age range 30-34, the HIV-infection rate is 3%.  That’s the official rate.  He (Pokrovsky) thinks that it is actually higher, somewhere in the 5-6% range.  Since not all carriers have been identified, and not all infected even know that they are infected.

The most serious centers of the epidemic are in the following oblasts:  Irkutsk, Sverdlovsk, Samara, and Kemerovo.  Within Samara, the city of Togliatti  is given special mention.  There, a whopping 3% of the population is infected with HIV.  Official rate, the actual rate is probably twice that, practically at African levels, according to Pokrovsky.

The Fruits of Prejudice and Ignorance

Once again, with the Kommersant interlocutors paraphrasing Pokrovsky:

Among the mass consciousness of Russians, there is a prejudice that HIV-infection is a problem only for drug addicts and homosexuals.

The reality is not such.

Last year, a census was taken of people who presented with HIV-infection –  57% of these people did indeed use narcotics via needle injection, and an additional  1% of these people were infected via homosexual contact.  But 40% of these people were neither drug users nor homosexuals.  They were perfectly “ordinary” heterosexuals whose only crime was to not use protection while having sex.

Are women at special risk?

Absolutely.  The group most at risk are actually young women engaged in a monogamous relationship.  People who use sex more casually are also more apt to use condoms.  But once people settle into a relationship, then the (heterosexual) pair stop using condoms, they might even live together for years in a civil-type marriage, not knowing each other’s HIV status, not even thinking about the issue.  Women can go for years without knowing that their sex partner is HIV-positive.  The official rate of infection among women aged 30-34 is 1.5%.  But this figure can be easily multiplied by 2 or 3.

How to fight this curse of Nature?

Pokrovsky thinks that the AIDS situation in Russia is very bad.  The government doesn’t do anything, except treat those people who are already infected.  Not enough resources are allocated to this problem.  First order of business should be to STOP the spread of HIV infection.  In addition, not enough resources are allocated to the treatment of those already infected.  Only about 30% of infected people are getting the medical treatment they need.

Are Russian children at risk, because of parents ignorance and government inaction?

What must absolutely happen first is to engage in prophylactic campaign.  This must be done from the very top, at the level of government.  But nobody is doing this.  Pokrovsky wants to see sex education done properly in the schools.  Children and teenagers need to have it explained to them, what exactly is HIV,  what are sexually transmitted diseases, how to protect oneself from such infections.  A barrier to this is the number of blowhards infecting the Russian Parliament – these are the demagogues  who start shrieking about “immorality” and “protecting the children” the minute anyone raises these issues.

As a positive example, Pokrovsky uses Germany, which has the lowest HIV infection rate in the world.  Less than one-tenth of one-percent.  What is Germany doing RIGHT, according to Pokrovsky?  Compulsory sex education in the schools.  Legalized prostitution, including mandatory health inspections of “sex workers”.  Use of legal narcotic-substitutes while treating drug addicts.  Aggressive treatment of HIV-infected patients.  All of this contributes to the low infection rate. Nothing like this is being done in Russia, and probably cannot be, due to ingrained social prejudices, and “see-no-evil” type attitides surrounding such issues as sex and drugs.

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6 Responses to Is there an HIV Epidemic in Russia?

  1. marcaly8 says:

    This is terrible, Yalensis, I saw a similar report on Russia Beyond the Headlines that says Russia has 980.000 citizens infected with HIV, it was a month ago. Don’t get me wrong, but I think Russia’s policies on health a disaster – a perverse mix of insensitivity, lack of information and stubborness by authorities part… Why so much reluctance in applying policies that will for sure benefit everyone? This is so sad. 😦


    • yalensis says:

      Yes, thanks for your comment, this is very sad situation.
      I personally think the sexual squeamishness and a sense of denial in Russian society is at the root of the problem.
      This is one of those rare times when the government needs to take the lead and maybe even lecture the people on what is best for them. Even go against popular opinion, if necessary. After all, these are human lives, physical health, and human dignity, that we are talking about.


      • davidt says:

        Yes, I agree that the HIV infection rate is a disgrace. Does the Minister for Health accept responsibility for anything? The smoking rate is equally disastrous. I have sometimes commented to friends that the single most important mistake that Putin made was not to attack these health issues as soon as he came to power. But why should everything depend on the action of one individual? (One might equally ask does the Minister of Sport actually do anything? – the international situation with athletics is a national disgrace.) This touches on an earlier comment in which I hinted that so many Russian institutions just don’t seem to “work”.
        And belated greetings from the antipodes for the Christmas and New Year period.


  2. Cass says:

    Something very wrong with those numbers — they are not anywhere close to the CIA world factbook numbers. Germany, for instance, is ranked (from highest to lowest) 103rd, which is not bad, but is higher than several countries in its immediate vicinity and nowhere near the best in the world. It is higher than China, Czech Republic, Greece, Albania, Poland — altogether 30 countries have a lower prevalence rate than Germany. These are not precise statistics or exact comparisons, but the differences are large.


    • yalensis says:

      Thanks for fact-checking this, Cass, I appreciate your input, as I am definitely not an expert. Do you have a link for these CIA statistics?
      And also, can the CIA statistics be trusted?


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