December 10, 2023

Emerging HIV Epidemic?


Emerging HIV Epidemic?
Creative artwork featuring colorized 3D prints of HIV virus particles. NIAID, Flickr

In 2022, Russia identified 71,000 new HIV cases, bringing the total number of people with HIV in the country to almost 1.2 million. In at least 19 regions, the epidemic has extended beyond vulnerable groups, affecting the entire population, according to the Esli Byt Tochnym ("If One is Being Accurate") project.

Their research indicates that the most challenging situation with HIV infection exists in Siberian and Ural regions, including the Kemerovo, Chelyabinsk, Irkutsk, and Tomsk regions and Altai, Krasnoyarsk, and Perm territories. 

To halt the HIV epidemic, widespread access to antiretroviral (ARV) therapy is crucial. Continuous ARV therapy renders a person's viral load undetectable, preventing virus transmission. However, Russia is experiencing a shortage of ARV drugs.

Esli Byt Tochnym reported that, in 2022, the Ministry of Health spent a record R42 billion ($455 million) on medicine purchases, but a quarter of this amount was taken from the 2023 budget. Consequently, funds for HIV treatment were nearly depleted by May.

According to Esli Byt Tochnym data in 2022, residents of Moscow, Crimea, Leningrad region, and Chechnya received inadequate treatment, with less than 50 percent of people with HIV in these regions receiving care.

The situation is particularly dire in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Local activists report that therapy supplies from Ukraine ceased after the invasion, and purchases from Russia have not yet been established. Consequently, doctors are distributing expired pills from old stocks.

The interruptions in medicine supply in Russia may be attributed to the high costs of the Russian war in Ukraine and underestimated statistics maintained by Russian departments, according to the independent outlet DOXA. “A lot of money goes to military needs, but there are no fewer patients due to poor HIV prevention in Russia,” said  Maxim Malyshev, the social work coordinator at the Andrey Rylkov Foundation.

Previously, the UN disclosed that, at the end of 2021, Russia was one of five countries in the world with the highest rates of HIV spread.

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