HIV/AIDS Cases Rising Quickly in Russia
The rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, the Washington Post reports. According to UNAIDS, nearly 50,000 Russians have tested positive for HIV since January of this year, an increase of 60% in just six months. Registered cases with the Russian Health Ministry number 129,261, but "specialists" say there could actually be as many as 750,000 cases. The number of infected Russians was just one-third that of the United States in 1999, UNAIDS says. However, according to the Post, the "escalation" of HIV/AIDS cases in Russia "might only grow worse." The Post reports that "until now, the infection has been largely confined to intravenous drug users" but some doctors believe it is "about to break out into the general population" through sexual contact. "If you just extrapolate from what we have seen in the last decade, it's going to be a disaster. It has the potential to become a huge tragedy," Armin Fidler, European health care sector manager for the World Bank, said. Critics cite drug addiction, which has risen twelvefold as a cause; according to the Post, the Russian government says that dirty needles have caused 80% to 90% of HIV infections in the past 10 years.
Fighting HIV/AIDS in Russia "has frustrated some in the West," according to the Post, because of "Russian culture and prejudice." Although groups such as Doctors Without Borders, George Soros's Open Society Institute, the NIH, World Bank and the G8 Summit have "initiated programs intended to increase prevention and education," Russia "historically has been suspicious of outside help" and has shown "reluctance" to accept the efforts. The World Bank's Fidler said, "The authorities and the population at large are not at all alarmed at the present time because it's early in the epidemic. That dynamic is what really worries us because if the epidemic remains unchecked -- and we have every indication that it is unchecked because not much is being done -- then we will have an explosion in the years to come." But Russian authorities say they "do understand the seriousness" of the disease and are taking steps, including "providing HIV-infected babies with medication," the Post reports (Baker, Washington Post, 7/29).