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Russia’s HIV crisis deepens

The number of people living with HIV in Russia has passed the one million mark

Now international health experts expressing increasing concern about the steep upwards trend in HIV transmission.

Experts blame a lack of sexual health education combined with discrimination against high-risk groups, namely gay and bisexual men.

According to data from the Russian Government, the number of people testing positive for HIV in
2016 alone was over 100,000.

Russia has a population of 144 million, compared to 65 million in the UK and yet here, the number of new cases of HIV was only 6,095 in the same period.

Just over 100,000 people in the UK are living with HIV. The Public Health England report, published in 2016, also remarked that 96% of those living with HIV are taking antiretroviral treatment. In Russia, only 37% of adults were on treatment in 2015, impacting not only on their health but also the likelihood of them passing on the virus to their partners.

There’s been a dramatic decline in people being diagnosed with HIV in the UK due to medical developments making it virtually impossible for most people to pass the virus on. As well as the increase in people being HIV ‘undetectable’ the situation has also been helped by free access to condoms and testing and the introduction of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis).

Meanwhile, in Russia, funding for HIV prevention programmes has been cut, demonstrating the lack of
investment in sexual health from the country’s government. Equally, a societal taboo around the
discussion of HIV and sexual health, has also lead to the issue being ignored.

Back in 2015, plans were announced to introduce online HIV lessons for young people in Russian, in
an attempt to educate them on methods of prevention and transmission of the virus. It was thought
that these lesson would be launched on World AIDS Day, coming up next month. But according to
Russia Today, the Russian Education Ministry has now halted these plans, because of concerns about
the discussion of condoms amongst young people.

Government officials have said they wish to avoid “delicate topics” in these lessons, which
include the word “condom”. This is despite the fact that condoms remain one of the most effective
ways of preventing the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

It is thought that the discrimination of men who have sex with men is further adding to the lack of access to both education about HIV and also treatment for those living with the virus.

It’s feared a combination of discrimination and lack of awareness will continue to impact upon HIV
transmission rates in Russia, unless officials take a more active stance in the fight against the virus.

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