Number of Russians Living With HIV/AIDS At Least Triple Official Figure, Study Says
The number of Russians living with HIV/AIDS likely is at least three times as high as the official figure of 300,000 cases, according to a study conducted by Murray Feshbach and Cristina Galvin of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and underwritten by USAID, the Washington Post reports. According to the study, which compared Russian and international statistics, Russia's HIV/AIDS epidemic "differs significantly" from the epidemics in North America and Western Europe in terms of age distribution, the Post reports. In the West, about 70% of HIV-positive people are at least 30 years old, while more than 80% of HIV-positive people in Russia are under age 30, according to the study. The spread of HIV among young Russians is "vividly illustrated" by the increasing number of potential army conscripts who test HIV-positive, according to the Post. Over the past five years, the number of conscripts testing positive has increased 25 to 27 times, the Post reports. In addition, the number of people undergoing HIV testing in the country has decreased "markedly" in recent years, with 2.5 million fewer Russians tested in 2003 than in 2002, according to the Post. The study said that the decline might be a result of shifting the financial responsibility for HIV testing to regional authorities, who can be "indifferent" to the threat of the disease, according to the Post.
Russian health authorities do not have information concerning the transmission mode of at least half of new HIV/AIDS cases, which prevents researchers from being able to predict how the disease will continue to spread "through a society that continues to stigmatize people with HIV," according to the study, the Post reports. Another problem is that "many physicians are bribed not to classify the patient's illness as one of the illnesses that carry a stigma," the study said. "It is perhaps too late to prevent the concentrated epidemic from eventually generalizing to the entire population," although HIV likely is still "concentrated" among injection drug users, the study found, according to the Post. In order to curb the spread of HIV in the country, Russia's government must "act aggressively" with treatment, prevention and education initiatives, according to the study, the Post reports. "If the leadership continues to pay only lip service to the issue, ... then the consequences in the very near term of two to three years, and certainly a decade from now, will be devastating to the society, to family formation, to the military, to productivity of labor [and] to continued growth of the Gross Domestic Product," the study concluded (Finn, Washington Post, 1/12).
Additional information on HIV/AIDS in Russia is available online through kaisernetwork.org's Issue Spotlight on AIDS.