Newly Formed Group Releases Report With Recommendations on Russian HIV/AIDS Epidemic
The newly formed Transatlantic Partners Against AIDS, an independent, non-governmental organization founded in July by members of the EastWest Institute's U.S.-Russia Working Group Against HIV/AIDS, today released a report on the Russian HIV/AIDS epidemic, including policy recommendations for Russian and Western leaders, business leaders and community advocates (TPAA release, 9/17). Russian health officials announced last week that the number of Russians living with HIV who have registered with the government has reached 250,000. Russia's First Deputy Health Minister Gennady Onishchenko said that most of the cases were among people between the ages of 17 and 27, adding that the country's military was unable to draft approximately 5,000 recruit-age young people because they tested HIV-positive. Onishchenko also said that the percentage of HIV cases attributable to sexual transmission increased to 12% this year from 6% last year. Most of the HIV cases in Russia are linked to injection drug use (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/12). The report, titled "On the Frontline of an Epidemic: The Need for Urgency in Russia's Fight Against AIDS," was completed based on Working Group discussions that were held at two major international conferences in May and June and smaller meetings with senior officials in Moscow and Washington, D.C. The report describes the current state of the Russian HIV/AIDS epidemic and calls for reforms in Russia's health care systems; elimination of stigma associated with the disease; increased government resources for treatment and prevention; and "[d]ecisive leadership from government officials, business executives, civil society representatives and people living with HIV."
TPAA President John Tedstrom said, "The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia can only be addressed successfully through the implementation of a comprehensive, integrated approach based on best practices in the fields of education and prevention; treatment, care and support; and human rights." He added, "None of these tasks will be easy, but Russia is currently facing an HIV crisis of ominous proportions that requires an immediate and dramatic response." Mikhail Margelov, chair of the Russian Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chair of the TPAA board, said, "There remains a short window of opportunity for Russia to avoid the catastrophe toward which it is headed. We cannot afford to ignore this problem as it is fast becoming an undeniable threat to our national security, economic growth and international relations" (TPAA release, 9/17).
HIV/AIDS 'Should be Priority'
With most of the HIV/AIDS cases in Russia occurring among people between the ages of 15 and 30, the epidemic could "rob Russia of its next generation" and threaten the nation's ability to be a "vital contributor to global stability and security" if disease is left unchecked, Tedstrom writes in a Financial Times opinion piece. Therefore, fighting HIV/AIDS "should be a priority both for Russia's leaders and for its partners in the [W]est," according to Tedstrom. Tedstrom says that Russia's first priority should be to dramatically increase funding to fight HIV/AIDS, because the nation's current level of spending is "insufficient." The country should also begin to train doctors and give them the authority to treat HIV/AIDS patients, who currently must seek treatment at one of the country's designated federal or regional centers, according to Tedstrom. In addition, Russian health officials should seek to expand treatment to HIV-positive people "in a manner that is fair, efficient and sustainable," including compulsory licensing, production of generic drugs and procurement of drugs at reduced prices, he writes. Tedstrom also recommends that Russia legalize and support needle-exchange programs and lift restrictions on the discussion of drug use, sex and related issues in the media and in schools. Tedstrom concludes that by "launching these important changes at home, Russia's leadership can create a legacy of achievement and compassion and demonstrate its commitment to tackling a truly global menace" (Tedstrom, Financial Times, 9/17).
A webcast of the press conference to release the report at Ria Novosti News Agency in Moscow is available online in Real Player. The press conference can also be viewed online in Windows Media.
More information on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia is available online as part of kaisernetwork.org's Issue Spotlight on HIV/AIDS.