Russia’s AIDS epidemic is at a dangerous tipping point after the number of people registered HIV-positive passed the 1 million mark, the country’s top AIDS specialist said on Thursday, warning the rate of infection had reached record levels.
Vadim Pokrovsky, the head of the federal AIDS center, told Reuters that the prevalence of the disease was on the verge of becoming common throughout the population, instead of concentrated primarily within a certain group.
Almost 20 percent of the country’s drug users and nearly 10 percent of the country’s gay people were HIV-positive, he said. Between 55 and 60 percent of cases are linked to drug use and around 40 percent to heteros3xual s3x. G*y s3x accounted for only about 1.5 percent.
Russia registered its millionth HIV-positive patient – a 26-year-old woman in the south of the country — on Wednesday, said Pokrovsky. But he added the real number of HIV-positive Russians could be as high as 1.5 million, or 1 percent of the population, based on his and other expert estimates.
“The epidemic is gathering strength. Unfortunately the measures that have been taken have clearly not been enough,” Pokrovsky said.
He warned that Russia was “on the threshold” of moving from a concentrated epidemic, where HIV is highly prevalent in one subset of the population, to a generalized epidemic, where HIV rates among the general population are sufficient for sexual networking to drive new infections.
“We’re in a transitional phase,” he said. “In separate regions we can say there is already a generalized HIV epidemic.”
The Russian epidemic has been driven by very harsh drug laws and a lack of harm reduction and needle exchange programs, as well as repressive homosexuality laws, according to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.
A report released by UNAIDS in 2014 called out Russia for its “appalling record” on HIV and drug policy. “The Russian Federation… continues to steadfastly deny the evidence on the effectiveness of harm reduction, and the rates of HIV infection among people who inject drugs in the country are among the highest in the world,” it said.
A federal law banning “gay propaganda” has also hindered access to HIV prevention services among the LGBT community, according to activists.