As Moscow hosts the Third Eastern Europe and Central Asia AIDS Conference (EECAAC), AIDS professionals have focused on the Russian Government’s failure to fund and promote effective HIV/AIDS prevention programs. AIDS experts urged the Russian Government Wednesday to end its HIV abstinence-based prevention programs.
In the past eight years, HIV infections have doubled in Russia to approximately 940,000, reported the Associated Press and evidence suggests that heterosexual sex is increasingly causing the disease to spread. UNAIDS claims that the rapidly increasing rate of infection in Russia is in contrast with decreased prevalence rates in sub-Saharan African and South and Southeast Asia.
AIDs experts are suggesting needle exchange programs, HIV/AIDS education, and methadone legalization. Gennady Onishchenko, Russia’s chief public health officer, has stated that Russia is “emphatically against” methadone therapy and criticized needle exchange programs as they possibly promote illegal drug use and HIV transmission, according to the Associated Press. Currently, the only needle exchange programs available in Russia are funded by international monies.
Robin Gorna, Executive Director of the International AIDS Society has disputed Onishchenko’s approach, saying, “The response to injecting drug use in Russia is driven by criminalization, but evidence tells us that criminalization is counterproductive to both effective drug treatment and HIV. In order to stem the tide of infections, Russia must embrace proven HIV prevention programs driven by public health principles,” according to an International AIDS Society press release. Gorna also told the Associated Press that “it does appear that ideology is getting in the way of public healthcare policy.”
Though Russia has expanded anti-AIDS funding 30 times since 2006, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe told Agence France Presse that Russia “needs to transform this great statement into access to prevention for most at risk for HIV.”