The International AIDS Society (IAS) responds to the irresponsible closure of the Russian language website of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation and demands its reopening
9 February 2012 - Geneva, Switzerland - Given its long-standing interest in the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), the IAS expresses its profound concern towards the abrupt decision of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) Moscow Department to close down the Russian language website of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation (ARF), a Russian public health organization which advocates and develops drug policies based on human rights and tolerance.
"Access to clear and simple information is the first basic step to prevent HIV infection. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people who inject drugs (IDU) have access to information that enables them to protect themselves. As an organization deeply committed to addressing HIV and AIDS in Eastern Europe, it is a great disappointment for us to see that the fundamental right to information is being denied," said Bertrand Audoin, Executive Director of IAS. "Our members working in the region have highlighted several times the desperate need not only for IDU but also community, advocates and physicians to have access to information in Russian".
The decision of the FSKN to consider the ARF's online library on Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) as propaganda on drugs reflects the general unhelpful position of the Russian government on drug policy.
OST is proven to be one of the most important tools in preventing the transmission of HIV in people who inject drugs. Despite this, some countries, including Russia, consider treatment with methadone and buprenorphine or needle exchange programmes as illegal. This, together with a "war on drugs" which includes criminalizing drugs and incarcerating people who use drugs, creates a climate of fear that prevents critical access to care and support.
According to the U.N., in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) has almost tripled between 2000 and 2009.
In 2011, the number of new HIV infections in Russia saw an increment of 10% with the majority of infections linked to injecting drug use; also, about 80% of the 980,000 people living with HIV are estimated to be less than 30 years of age, meaning that a whole generation is in danger.
"Stigma, discrimination, and punitive practices and policies continue to limit the benefits of prevention, treatment, and care," said IAS governing Council member Chris Beyrer, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights in Baltimore, USA. "Preventing access to OST means that every year more and more people, especially young people, become infected with HIV".
"The IAS dedicates time and resources in advocating for Harm Reduction policies in Russia and Eastern Europe. In 2011, we launched a Virtual Knowledge Centre together with the Ukranian Institute of Public Health Policy. Also, IAS was among the promoters of the Vienna Declaration, a global declaration demanding that drug policies should be based on science, not ideology," said Elly Katabira, president of IAS, "however, nothing can be as effective and targeted as the work carried out by organizations based in the region like the Andrey Rylkov Foundation and we urge the FSKN to reconsider its decision and reopen this website which can effectively help in saving people's lives".
A joint statement issued by international health and human rights groups including ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch, Harm Reduction International, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy pointed out that the decision of closing the website represents an assault on freedom of expression and goes against international rights laws and public health norms. The IAS fully endorses this statement and adds its voice in condemning the Russian government position toward drug policy, a position that puts a major threat on the health of its citizens.
(the joint statement is available here: http://www.hrw.org/node/105055 )
About the IAS:
The International AIDS Society (IAS) is the world's leading independent association of HIV professionals, with over 16,000 members from more than 196 countries working at all levels of the global response to AIDS. Our members include researchers from all disciplines, clinicians, public health and community practitioners on the frontlines of the epidemic, as well as policy and programme planners. The IAS is the custodian of the biennial International AIDS Conference, which will be held in Washington, D.C., in July 2012, and lead organizer of the IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention.
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Reproduced with permission - "International AIDS Society (IAS)"
International AIDS Society (IAS)