Number of HIV/AIDS Cases in Russia’s North Caucasus Increasing, Agence France-Presse Reports
The number of HIV/AIDS cases in Russia's North Caucasus is increasing with a "terrifying speed," Agence France-Presse reports. According to Agence France-Presse, the effects of war, injection drug use, drug shortages and cultural taboos have contributed to the increase in HIV cases in the region. According a government-administered HIV prevention center in the region's capital, Rostov-on-Don, the number of HIV cases has doubled in Chechnya, which is in the North Caucasus, from 6.6 cases per 100,000 people in 2003 to 13.2 cases per 100,000 people in 2006. In neighboring Dagestan, HIV cases have quadrupled during the same time period from 1.9 cases per 100,000 people to 8.7 cases per 100,000 people, according to the center.
Conflict in Chechnya forced the only HIV treatment center in the capital of Grozny to close in 1994, which made screening for the disease in the region's blood supply nearly impossible, according the nongovernmental organization Life. The movement of separatist fighters and refugees to neighboring countries also contributed to the spread of the disease throughout the region, Agence France-Presse reports. Life and other NGOs estimate that there are about 935 cases of HIV in Dagestan and 776 in Chechnya, but exact figures are not available. "Chechen authorities are secretive about the AIDS problem in Chechnya," an unnamed volunteer at Life said, adding, "We wrote several letters to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrom about our problems, but there was no response." AIDS advocates in Dagestan also have tried to distribute information booklets and condoms, mostly to commercial sex workers in local saunas, but many sauna owners have been uncooperative, Agence France-Presse reports. Although many advocates also say that cultural practices are exacerbating the spread of HIV, some HIV-positive locals have established groups to address the stigma surrounding the disease (Agence France-Presse, 6/17).
Russian Government's Response to HIV/AIDS Stigma, Care 'Inadequate,' Opinion Piece Says
The Russian government's response to the threat of HIV/AIDS, specifically in dealing with the stigma and care for orphan children, so far has been "inadequate," Cesar Chelala, an international medical consultant, writes in a Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece. According to Chelala, Russia must undertake a "massive" sex and HIV/AIDS "education campaign throughout the country aimed at the most vulnerable and disadvantaged" populations to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. A system must be developed to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, Chelala writes, adding that pediatricians also should be trained to provide antiretroviral therapy and care for HIV-positive children. He concludes that the government should "prioritize the fight against HIV/AIDS as public policy and prosecute violations of the federal AIDS law" (Chelala, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/18).