St. Petersburg Times Examines National Campaign To Confront HIV/AIDS Stigma in Russia
Russia's St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday examined the "Stay Human" campaign, a nationwide media effort in Russia focusing on fighting HIV/AIDS stigma, organized by the Moscow-based Focus-Media Foundation, the Russian Coordination Council for HIV-Positive People, the St. Petersburg Humanitarian Foundation Delo and several other foundations. The three-month campaign, which will use advertisements to spread its message across the country, uses the motto, "HIV isn't transmitted via friendship," the Times reports. According to the Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Rights and Human Welfare, the number of HIV infections in Russia has nearly doubled in the past five years, from 121 per 100,000 people in 2001 to 231 per 100,000 by the end of 2005. Yevgenia Alexeyeva, director of Focus-Media Foundation, said she was "stunned" by the widespread misconceptions about HIV/AIDS among people in Russia. According to research conducted in 10 regions of Russia by the foundation prior to the campaign, 70% of people believe that HIV can be transmitted through mosquito bites, 56% of respondents believe that HIV can be acquired by kissing an HIV-positive person, 40% believe HIV can be transmitted by coughing and sneezing, and more than 50% of respondents said it is possible to acquire HIV by sharing an office or workplace with an HIV-positive person, the Times reports.
Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Delo, said that for many years fear was the only method of prevention against HIV/AIDS in Russia, adding, "Scary articles and TV reports did much to reinforce the stigma" and "it will take years to get rid of it." Fear leads to "horrendous" discrimination, said Alexander Volgin, head of the Northwestern branch of the Russian Coordination Council for HIV-Positive People, adding "[E]ven the doctors who inform you about the diagnosis ... act in the most unpleasant way. It is not uncommon for an ambulance to refuse to help HIV-positive people." Discrimination often causes HIV-positive people who fear the stigma associated with the virus to delay treatment, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Russia this year increased funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs from $4.5 million in 2004 -- enough to treat about 600 patients -- to $140 million (Stolyarova, St. Petersburg Times, 2/7).