High Rate of Injection Drug Use, Crowded Prisons Fueling Russian AIDS Epidemic, Wall Street Journal Reports
In Russia, home to the "world's fastest-growing HIV epidemic," injection drug use and small, crowded prisons "fue[l] concern that the country could soon be host to one of the world's worst AIDS crises," the Wall Street Journal reports. A UNAIDS and World Health Organization report released last year found that between 1996 and 2001, the number of new HIV infections registered in Russia increased from approximately 1,500 each year to more than 87,000 last year. Experts believe that the increase in cases is due to a high rate of injection drug use and "harsh drug laws" that have created a large HIV-positive prison population, who are continuing to share needles while in prison. Approximately 17% of the 195,000 registered HIV-positive Russians are incarcerated, according to the Journal. In most Russian prisons, the main defense against the spread of HIV is the segregation of HIV-positive inmates from uninfected inmates. However, because HIV testing is sometimes delayed for lack of money or supplies and the production of HIV antibodies can be delayed in some people, HIV-positive and HIV-negative individuals are often housed together. The segregation of prisoners also creates a false sense of security among the prisoners, so many believe they can safely share needles without fear of HIV infection. A survey completed by Doctors Without Borders in 2000 found that 8% of Russia's prison population admitted to injecting drugs while in prison, and 67% of those prisoners said they had shared needles. According to the Journal, there are "some signs of progress" at halting the spread of HIV in prison, as education of inmates has reduced their risk behavior, according to a survey by AIDS Foundation East-West. However, according to Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, a coordinator of AIDS-prevention programs for drug users for the Open Society Institute, the "prevailing attitude" among Russians is that "HIV and drug use will take care of each other" (Schoofs, Wall Street Journal, 6/25).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.