JRL NEWSWATCH: “Russia’s Avoidable Epidemic of HIV/AIDS” – PONARS Eurasia/ Judyth Twigg

Microscopic Image of T-Cells Infected by HIV

“After first exploding among people who inject drugs in the late 1990s, HIV/AIDS now presents a serious public health and social challenge in Russia. The threat was initially mitigated through energetic interventions from civil society, largely financed by the global health community, that attempted to introduce best-practice prevention and treatment strategies. President Vladimir Putin’s third term and the consequent dismantling of most international partnerships coincided with a re-acceleration of the epidemic. Aggressive messaging touting the immorality of drug use and sexual activity/identity outside traditional norms has served as a potent tool in the Kremlin’s campaign to stoke scorn and fear of Western ideas and behaviors. One manifestation of this strategy: a blunt refusal to promote needle and syringe exchange, opioid agonist therapy (such as methadone), and even condom use, all key elements of the “harm reduction” approach universally acknowledged as an essential tool to prevent new HIV infections. Absent a wholesale shift in attitude and tactics, the Russian government will continue to confront a costly and expanding HIV/AIDS burden, an embarrassment to its aspirations for global power status ….”

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