Russia To Focus on HIV/AIDS, Global Health Issues at G8
Global health issues, including HIV/AIDS, will be among the top agenda items at the Group of Eight industrialized nations summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, which begins on Saturday, the country's chief public health officer Gennady Onishchenko said Tuesday, ITAR-TASS News Service/BBC News reports. The G8 also plans to sign a document establishing guidelines for combating infectious diseases worldwide, Onishchenko said (ITAR-TASS News Service/BBC News, 7/11). British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the past few weeks has recognized that the G8 has not met HIV/AIDS commitments made at last year's summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, the Associated Press reports (Burkhardt, Associated Press, 7/12). According to a progress report released earlier this month by DATA, a debt relief and trade advocacy group co-founded by Irish musicians Bono and Bob Geldof, the G8 has not fulfilled pledges to provide antiretroviral drugs to Africa, expand trade and increase aid (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/3). "We must deliver on the promises made last year to this great continent to help provide the opportunity for the poorest Africans to lift themselves out of poverty and make steady progress toward a better life for future generations," Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, said Tuesday (Business Day, 7/12). The G8 summit will provide an ideal opportunity for world leaders to demonstrate their commitment to curbing the spread of infectious diseases, acting Director-General of the World Health Organization Anders Nordstrom said Tuesday, adding, "I'm quite optimistic. ... The link between disease outbreaks, security and economic development is quite strong on the agenda now." The "big question" is whether "lofty statements" by G8 leaders will result in more funding for HIV/AIDS and other diseases, the AP/Washington Post reports (Ritter, Washington Post, 7/11). According to experts, the inclusion of China and India at this year's G8 summit will allow leaders a new opportunity to explore regional solutions to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Associated Press reports. In these countries and Russia, experts have said the HIV/AIDS epidemic is spreading "beyond high-risk groups," the Associated Press reports. According to some HIV/AIDS experts, the three nations require less assistance than African nations currently facing a large HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Associated Press reports (Associated Press, 7/12). Onishchenko on Tuesday also reiterated Russia's support of a U.S. initiative launched in 2004 to create a global network for developing an HIV vaccine. "Russia is proposing itself as a subregional center and a kind of coordinator for the issue on the territory of Central Asia and eastern Russia," he said (ITAR-TASS News Service/BBC News, 7/11).
Russia Addresses Domestic HIV/AIDS Issues Ahead of Summit
In related news, Onishchenko on Tuesday said that Russia was experiencing a shortage of antiretroviral drugs because of interruptions in distribution services and said the government was working to address the situation (Troianovski, Associated Press, 7/11). According to the WHO office in Moscow, shortages of antiretrovirals to treat HIV/AIDS in some parts of Russia are seriously affecting the lives of HIV-positive people and could lead to the spread of drug resistant strains of the virus. The concerns come two months after Russian President Vladmir Putin announced that the government would allocate $175 million this year for HIV/AIDS programs. The amount is a more than 30-fold increase over 2005's allocation, and the government plans to increase the amount to about $284.9 million in 2007. Some HIV/AIDS advocates say that bureaucracy surrounding Russia's fight against HIV/AIDS is in part to blame for the shortages (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/23). "A problem in the sufficiency of antiretroviral drugs in Russia exists," Onishchenko said, adding, "We know about this issue and are trying to regulate it, but I will say it won't be solved right now." Onishchenko cited an "inflexibility of distributors," an "untimely order," and "incorrectly calculated" numbers of people needing treatment as the reasons for the shortage (Associated Press, 7/11). According to Russian estimates, there are about 334,000 HIV-positive people living in the country, though some HIV/AIDS experts say the number likely is more than one million (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/23). According to UNAIDS, the estimate is over 900,000 (globalhealthfacts.org). Five percent of HIV-positive people in Russia who need antiretrovirals are receiving them, according to recent WHO and UNAIDS figures (Associated Press, 7/12).
Russia To Provide No-Cost Antiretrovirals
By the end of 2006, as many as 15,000 HIV-positive people in Russia will have access to no-cost antiretroviral treatment, Onishchenko also announced on Tuesday, RIA Novosti reports. According to Onishchenko, the initial phase of the no-cost treatment program is expected to benefit about 20% of the 350,000 officially reported HIV-positive people. He added that the number of people receiving no-cost treatment could double in 2007. Onischenko also said that the program's main obstacle is breaking down the stigma that HIV-positive people face when seeking treatment. "Many of them fear disclosure of their personal information by doctors," he said, adding, "Society, too, behaves toward these people in a highly aggressive and selfish way" (RIA Novosti, 7/11).