Russian Government’s Drug Policies Contribute to HIV/AIDS Epidemic, Human Rights Watch Report Says
The Russian government's "draconian" drug policies contribute to the country's growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 4/28). The 62-page HRW report, titled "Lessons Not Learned: Human Rights Abuses and HIV/AIDS in the Russian Federation," says that Russia's "harsh" drug policies and "routine" police harassment of injection drug users -- the population most affected by HIV/AIDS in the country -- limit access to HIV prevention services, including needle-exchange programs. In addition, the country's policies could have "widespread consequences" because HIV is spreading from high-risk groups into the general population, according to an HRW release (HRW release, 4/28). The Russian Health Ministry's AIDS Prevention and Treatment Center earlier this month released a report that found that although the number of new HIV cases among injection drug users in Russia is declining, the number of HIV cases linked to sexual transmission is rising. The report also showed that approximately 280,000 HIV-positive people were living in Russia as of Jan. 1 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/14). However, Vadim Pokrovsky, director of the AIDS Prevention and Treatment Center, has said that the actual number of HIV cases in Russia could be between 700,000 and 1.5 million (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/2).
Report Details, Recommendations
The report says that many HIV-positive injection drug users may be reluctant to try to find clean needles because drug possession in Russia is punishable by mandatory detention, according to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse, 4/28). In addition, needle exchange in prisons -- where HIV/AIDS is "rampant" -- is prohibited, and the government also bars the use of methadone, which is used widely for heroin-substitution therapy, the Associated Press reports (Danilova, Associated Press, 4/28). The government also prohibits active drug users who are living with HIV/AIDS from obtaining antiretroviral treatment, which is a "counterproductive policy," according to the report. In addition, HIV-positive drug users and other people living with the disease in Russia face discrimination in the workplace and have difficulty obtaining government services because the Russian government has "invested so little" in public education campaigns focusing on HIV/AIDS, according to the report. HRW HIV/AIDS Program Director Joanne Csete said, "Instead of learning the basic lessons of how to fight AIDS from countries that have older epidemics, the Russian government is endangering the broader population by putting up barriers to HIV prevention services for those most at risk." The report also calls on Russia to reject its strict mandatory sentencing for small-time drug users, reverse its ban on methadone use, expand access to needle-exchange programs, allow drug users to receive antiretroviral treatment and HIV/AIDS prevention education and subsidize public education programs "to ensure that all Russians have access to scientifically sound information on HIV/AIDS" (HRW release, 4/28).