Russia’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic Poses National Security Threat, Officials Say
Russia's HIV/AIDS epidemic poses a threat to the country's national security, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov said on Wednesday in Moscow at a meeting, titled "The Development of Partnership of the State and the Private Sector for Struggle Against AIDS in Russia," the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (AP/Long Island Newsday, 3/30). "The growth of AIDS has gone beyond being a medical problem only and has become an issue of strategic, social and economic security of the country within the current demographic situation in Russia," Zhukov said (BBC Monitoring, 3/30). The number of AIDS cases in Russia has "exceeded all the expectations of experts," according to Zhukov, RIA Novosti reports (RIA Novosti , 3/30). Russian officials earlier this year had registered more than 300,000 HIV cases, up from 270,000 registered last year, according to Natalya Ladnaya, a senior researcher at Russia's Federal AIDS Centre. UNAIDS estimates that about 860,000 HIV-positive people currently live in Russia (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/16). Zhukov said that the Russian government "understands the scale and importance of this problem and realizes the need to prevent the uncontrolled development of the epidemic."
Zhukov called on Russia's government and businesses to join together to fight HIV/AIDS, and he stressed the role that pharmaceutical companies could play in improving treatment access, according to the Itar-Tass News Agency (Volkova/Urusova, Itar-Tass News Agency, 3/30). Zhukov said that the participation of pharmaceutical companies in initiatives to control the Russian HIV/AIDS epidemic could help the country become a leader in the production of antiretroviral medications and the development of an HIV vaccine. Drug companies also could sponsor prevention and education activities, as well as help to reduce discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients in their access to care and treatment, according to Zhukov (RIA Novosti , 3/30).
Health Minister Mikhail Zurabov at the meeting also announced that Russia has reached agreements with several international pharmaceutical companies that will allow HIV-positive Russians to pay about $3,000 annually for antiretroviral medication. Currently, patients pay about $10,000 annually for treatment, which is considered a "princely sum" for a majority of Russians, according to the AP/Newsday (AP/Long Island Newsday, 3/30). Zurabov said the country hopes to further reduce antiretroviral prices by about 50%, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 3/30).
Business, Media, U.N.
Meeting participants also examined ways for businesses to join in the fight against HIV/AIDS, including workplace prevention programs, community interventions, partnerships with civic organizations, and collaborations between government and industry. "It is critical that through the partnership, the Russian government, business community and public are working together to identify and implement effective solutions to Russia's HIV/AIDS problem," Zurabov said (Joint release, 3/30). Also at the meeting on Wednesday, Gazprom Media Chair Alexander Dybal announced that a group of large Russian media organizations will donate about $200 million in cash, airtime and column space to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS as part of a three-year campaign to stop the spread of the disease (Medetsky, Moscow Times, 3/31). The Russian Media Partnership to Combat HIV/AIDS -- a coalition of leading media outlets and organizations, led by Gazprom-Media, Prof-Media, ROL, CTC Television and MTV Russia -- in December 2004 launched the StopSPID campaign, or "stop AIDS," in conjunction with the Global Media AIDS Initiative. The campaign includes public service announcements, television and radio programs, an Internet campaign, consumer product placement and print editorial content (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/1/04). In addition, the Russian government will continue to support the United Nations' efforts to implement HIV/AIDS prevention programs in the country, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday during talks with Antonio Maria Costa, director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. "You'll have intensive consultations over this program in the Russian capital," Lavrov said, adding, "Moscow will be making all efforts to promote the program in this country" (Itar-Tass News Agency, 3/30).
World Bank Vice President Jean-Louis Sarbib on Wednesday warned that an HIV/AIDS epidemic could have "disastrous" consequences for Russia's economy, MOSNEWS.com reports. He said that Russia's gross domestic product could decrease by 4% if the number of HIV-positive people in the country reaches 1% of the population (MOSNEWS.com, 3/30). A recent survey conducted by Transatlantic Partners Against AIDS demonstrated the need for businesses to become involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS (RIA Novosti , 3/30). The survey of human resource managers of 137 Russian companies showed that many companies in the country lack awareness of basic HIV/AIDS information and knowledge about how the epidemic is affecting Russia and do not have strategies in place to fight the disease among their employees (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/16). In addition, many companies "badly underestimate the destructive impact an AIDS epidemic may have on economic competitiveness," according to the survey, RIA Novosti reports. However, experts noted several "hopeful mental shifts" that might improve the situation, including business leaders gathering for the Moscow meeting and the implementation of prevention and education programs (RIA Novosti , 3/30).