Russian AIDS Epidemic May Reach ‘Catastrophic Proportions, ‘UNAIDS Warns
Representatives from the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS and Russian experts warned Wednesday that the AIDS epidemic in Russia may reach "catastrophic proportions" unless officials "take quick action" to reduce "runaway" growth rates of the "killer" disease, Reuters reports. According to a statement issued by UNAIDS, HIV/AIDS had afflicted 130,000 Russian residents by the end of 1999, but experts agree that the actual number of cases remains "significantly underreported." Vadim Pokrovsky, director of the AIDS prevention center, told Ekho Moskvy radio that at the current rate of growth, the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Russia could top one million in two to three years. He also called some consequences of the epidemic "irreversible," warning that if "a passive and indifferent attitude to this epidemic (continues), Russians will face many more serious problems and tragedies." He concluded, "The main plague will start in five or six years because people are dying on average 10 to 12 years after contracting the infection, and the mass epidemic in Russia started in the 1990s" (FitzGerald, Reuters, 11/15). International Assistance The World Bank yesterday announced it will provide Russia with a $150 million loan to combat the spread of HIV, the Associated Press reports. The loan will fund AIDS prevention activities in 2001-2003, World Bank representative Michael Carter said, although details of the programs were not provided (Associated Press, 11/16). The announcement came after UNAIDS called on donors Wednesday to provide at least $20 million over the next three years to halt the AIDS epidemic in Russia. UNAIDS officials said that the majority of the funds would be used to help prevent the spread of HIV through intravenous drug use, the most common means of transmission in Russia. In addition, UNAIDS would allocate funds to quell the "growing" number of sexually transmitted infections, targeting teenagers and pregnant women. "So far, the epidemic in Russia has been driven by drug users," Arkadiusz Majszyk, UNAIDS representative in Russia, said, adding, "But a second wave of HIV infections spread by sexual contact could follow the current drug-driven epidemic and in just three to four years, Russia may well have a generalized epidemic." Currently, according to Pokrovsky, existing anti-AIDS programs in Russia remain "poorly financed" and "surprisingly weak." He said that Russia has spent only $1.6 million on AIDS programs this year, about 1,000 times less than the United States. Majszyk also told Ekho Moskvy that Russia had the "world's highest rate of growth" for the spread of HIV. "In the space of one month this year, 30,000 new HIV cases were uncovered, while last year this figure was three times lower," he said, adding, "With so many cases we can begin to talk about a threat to national security." The World Health Organization reported this month that the number of reported HIV infections in Russia had doubled annually for the last five years and urged the nation to take "tough measures" to check the epidemic (Reuters, 11/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.