ST PETERSBURG: After years of fighting against the HIV epidemic in Russia, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has signed a plan to curb the spread of HIV in the country.
The directive, approved on Tuesday (25 October), aims to reduce Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) incidence by expanding screening and testing and the availability of antiretroviral treatment, seeking to decrease the rates of complications and deaths caused by the virus.
According to a report released by the government today, the number of HIV infections has seen a steady increase of 10% annually since 2006.
So far HIV screening in Russia covers a mere 19.3% of the population and actual funding provides antiretroviral treatment to a 37.3% of the infected.
A decrease in the number of harm reduction programmes due to a lack of funding and the unavailability of a substitutive treatment for heroin addicts have caused the virus to take an epidemic dimension.
“More than a 1% of the total population is registered as HIV positive but the actual number might be even higher,” reported Marina Akulova, a member of Humanitarian Action, a harm reduction centre based in St Petersburg.
The topic of HIV–typically stigmatised as a virus that would only affect prostitutes, drug addicts and the gay community–is often denied altogether. Not only do many internet groups deny the existence of the virus, but even politicians and public figures have dismissed HIV as simply a myth.