By Paul Goble
In another example of the Putin regime’s apparent belief that if it doesn’t talk about something, that something doesn’t exist, Russian officials this week made it quite clear that they don’t want anyone, including medical professionals, to say that there is an HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia.
On Monday, Russian news agencies reported that Yekaterinburg had declared there was an HIV epidemic in that city, but within a few hours, city officials said they hadn’t officially but acknowledged that in reality, the number of HIV infections there long ago passed that threshold (spektr.press/bez-obyavleniya-vojny-kak-v-rossii-oficialno-ne-priznayut-epidemiyu-vich/).
Approximately one in every 50 residents of that city is infected, with rates for younger age groups, newborns and certain districts even higher than that. Officials acknowledged that Sverdlovsk oblast as a whole ranks first in Russia in terms of the number of HIV infections registered per 100,000 population.
One reason rates in Yekaterinburg are higher than elsewhere is that officials, under city head Yevgeny Royzman, have tested a far higher percentage of people than is the case in most places, 23 percent as opposed to less than 15 percent. Were other places to be as proactive, their numbers would go up, and experts say there are at least 1.5 million HIV infected Russians now.
Tatyan Savinova, the first deputy chief of Yekaterinburg’s health care administration, says that “for us, doctors, there has been an HIV epidemic for a long time” given that “when on the territory of the city more than one percent of the population is HIV infected, this is a generalized stage of the dissemination of an epidemiological process.”
But she acknowledges that Moscow officials don’t want to declare an epidemic, despite the evidence. Consequently, more people will contract HIV and die when it grows into full-blown AIDS. Already more than 200,000 Russians have died from AIDS since the end of the 1980s.
The reluctance of Moscow officials to do so is not just because of homophobia. Many of those Russians now infected are heterosexuals or drug users. But it appears to be about status. Until recently, Russia was a donor nation in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. It would be hard to acknowledge that it now faces the same scourge at home.
But its failure to do so means that fewer Russians will be tested and given treatment earlier and that Russia will not be able to get some of the concessionary prices drug companies have offered states with epidemics. So once again for the sake of a false status, the Kremlin is creating a situation in Russia where more of its own people will die.