RUSSIA AT RISK
OF HIV EPIDEMIC HITTING CATASTROPHIC LEVELS
Russian drug policy can lead to an additional
5 million people becoming infected
in the near future
MOSCOW, October 7, 2011 - On October 10-12, 2011, in Moscow, the Russian
Government has organized the International Forum "Millennium Development Goal 6 in Eastern Europe and Central Asia". Representatives
from the scientific community, civil society and government will participate in the Forum. Millennium Development Goals are the targets that
193 UN member states, as well as over 20 international organizations, have pledged to reach by 2015. The Millennium Development Goal 6
(MDG 6) aims to slow down and begin to reverse the HIV/AIDS epidemic by the year 2015, including in Russia.
However, today the growth of HIV incidence has not been contained, and in fact HIV incidence continues to grow. By December 31, 2010,
589,581 people with HIV were registered in the Russian Federation, compared to 529,828 people with HIV registered in 2009. Sharing of
non-sterile syringes by injecting drug users remains the main route of HIV transmission - over 59.2% of all registered HIV cases,
according to the Federal Scientific and Methodological Center for AIDS Prevention and Control. According to the Federal Agency
for Drug Control (FSKN), there are estimated 5 million drug users in Russia. Thus, today 5 million people are under
threat of contracting HIV, and in the future the epidemic in Russia could take catastrophic proportions.
"Clearly, in this situation HIV prevention among drug users must be a priority for Russia", says Alexandra Volgina,
activist, person living with HIV; Chair of the charity foundation Svecha. "In many countries that had to face drug dependence long before
Russia and had similar epidemic situations, it was possible to significantly reduce HIV spread among drug users by implementing harm
reduction programs. These programs include methadone substitution therapy and needle and syringe exchange. But the current Russian
policy denies these methods that are accepted worldwide and recommended by the UN. This denial is not based on evidence."
The emphasis of the fight against HIV in Russia is on using ineffective prevention measures in the background of repression against drug
users and creation of an atmosphere of public intolerance towards people who use drugs. However, global experience shows that the spread of
HIV in this group can be reduced also through changing drug policies to ensure their conformity with public health and human rights
principles, and abandoning the repressions.
"There is an obvious connection between the spread of HIV among drug users and human rights", says Mikhail
Golichenko, Senior Policy Analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. "However, currently the Russian policy reflects quite
the opposite of the developed countries' experience. Repressive Russian drug policy deprives people who use drugs of the right to
health and the right to life itself. Harsh law enforcement measures result in drug users going "underground", contracting
infectious diseases, using prescription drugs and mixes and dying from overdoses; enforcement measures also result in
the growth of the prison population. Together with a tuberculosis epidemic - at the end of the year 2009 there were
262,718 people with active tuberculosis registered at the Russian TB treatment facilities, - this makes
achieving MDG 6 by 2015 absolutely impossible for Russia."
Here are just some practical examples: the Russian government's estimated annual expenditures related to drug law enforcement
(Articles 228-233 of the Russian Criminal Code) equal 2 billion 878 million 750 thousand rubles, or about 100 million
US dollars. This amount does not include the money spent on detention and imprisonment. To compare, only 20 million
US dollars was allocated to HIV and hepatitis B and C prevention among all population groups in 2011. The same amount will
be allocated to HIV and hepatitis B and C prevention among all population groups in 2012 and three times less will be
allocated in 2013. Considering the context and tendencies in the development of the HIV epidemic in Russia, clearly
such policies are not leading to any positive results.
"No money at all is allocated towards HIV prevention among injecting drug users", says Anya Sarang, President
of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice. "However, at the Moscow Forum on October 10-12 the Russian
Government is planning to take on a leadership role in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central
Asia. If Russia is acknowledged as the regional leader for reaching MDG 6 and its drug policy will
continue to be based on repressive measures, then undoubtedly the region will become involved in a new
round of mass human rights violations. This would lead to an HIV outbreak, new AIDS-related deaths,
overdoses, denial of medical help based on discrimination. At the same time, economic and
financial expenses necessary for effective prevention and for reaching MDG-6 will keep growing."
Currently, a few days prior to the MDG 6 Forum, Russian and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are appealing en masse
to the Russian Government. One of these appeals says that ęthe Moscow MDG 6 Forum, as a magnifying glass, allows seeing these problems
and Russia's neglect of its own HIV epidemic and of the people who are at the highest risk."
"To change the situation, the Russian Government must radically change the useless and expensive methods of combating HIV and the
repressive policy towards drug users", says Ivan Varentsov from the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network. "Before
the opening of the MDG 6 Forum we want to call upon the Russian Government to support the necessary prevention programs for those at
the highest risk of HIV, including substitution therapy and needle exchange programs. Otherwise, tackling the HIV epidemic and
reaching the MDG by 2015 will be impossible."
About the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network ( www.aidslaw.ca ) promotes the human rights
of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, in Canada and internationally, through research, legal and policy analysis,
education, and community mobilization. The Legal Network is Canada 's leading advocacy organization working on the legal and
human rights issues raised by HIV/AIDS.
About the Harm Reduction International:
The Harm Reduction International ( www.irha.net ) is one of the leading international
non-governmental organisations working in harm reduction and drug policy reform, and is an influential source of research, policy and
legal analysis and advocacy. Based in London , Harm Reduction International works to reduce drug related harms by promoting
evidence-based public health policy and practices and human rights-based approaches to drug policy through an integrated
programme of research, analysis, advocacy and collaboration with civil society partners.
About the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network:
The Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN - www.harm-reduction.org ) is a
regional network committed to promoting humane, evidence-based harm reduction approaches to drug use, with the aim of improving health
and protecting human rights at the individual, community, and societal level.
Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Telephone: +1 416 804-1955,
President of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social justice
Telephone +7 926 870 85 18,
Policy expert in HIV, drug policy and harm reduction,
Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social justice
Telephone +7 916 642 56 82,
Reproduced with permission - "Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network"
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network