MOSCOW, RUSSIA (NOVEMBER 29, 2013) (REUTERS) - Living with HIV/AIDS in Russia is a challenge, say people with the disease, but Moscow authorities blame foreigners for being part of the of the problem.
Drug addicts sharing needles remained the primary cause of infection, accounting for 58 percent of all new cases. Heterosexual contact followed with 40 percent.
HIV-positive people, though, say that despite the fact the government acknowledges the severity of the epidemic, not much is being done to spread the word across the country to prevent or stop the disease.
"(This is) an epidemic and I don't see any response to it. I don't see the government working with people, I don't see any information campaigns, I don't even see basic video campaigns that would make aware or simply tell that people that condoms have to be used, that it protects and keeps you healthy. Sexual ignorance and fear of talking about sexual relations in Russia is, in my opinion, the main reason," said Demir, who is living with HIV and campaigns to stem it spreading.
The problem, as HIV campaigner Maria describes it, is that in Russia, people struggle to understand the scope of the disease, who is infected and how if affects people.
"Here in Russia this is how it works - everyone either wants it (AIDS) to either be, wow, some kind of 20th century plague, like they used to call it, so that there is no way out, and you can only huddle frightened in the corner. Or (to say) that it doesn't exist, and it was all made up to make money off of us," Maria said.
Maria also added that generally treatment was available across Russia, but only to Russian citizens, which means that foreigners had no chance of getting free treatment.
"There's treatment in Russia, therapies are free and are available to Russian citizens acrossRussia. If we talk about Moscow, the Moscow AIDS centre will not provide therapy without Moscowregistration. Thank God there is another AIDS centre, the federal AIDS centre, it used to be just a research centre, but now they treat people, because there are a lot of immigrants in Moscow and obviously many of them have AIDS. But that only (applies) to Russian citizens. If the person comes from another country - they won't be treated," she said.
The state-run Federal AIDS Centre puts the number of HIV-positive Russians put that statistic at 730,000 in November 2012, the latest available.
"There are obviously positives (here in Russia), such as accessible healthcare, medical centres, rather good specialists working for the Moscow healthcare system, and we can cure the ill with the most advanced treatment. We have a rather developed HIV social awareness system. On the other hand, the city is big, migration flows are high too, and you understand that this has the most negative effect on the HIV epidemic," Mazus said.
"In total, there are more 67.000 ill (HIV positive) people in Moscow. As you can see, 58 percent of those, and only 58 percent, are Moscow residents, the rest are either visitors coming to Moscowfrom other regions, or foreigners and homeless people," he said, adding that the epidemic growth in Russia in recent years was 12.5 percent.
"In recent years in Russia - and as you may recall there was a spike in the epidemic, and then there was a recess, and then a new wave started in some regions of our country - the epidemic growth was 12.5 per cent."
Some 131,000 people were newly infected with HIV in Europe and nearby countries in 2012, an 8 percent rise from a year earlier and a worrying reversal of a recent downward trend in AIDS cases in the West.
A report published by the World Health Organisation's (WHO) European office and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) showed a steady increase in new HIV cases over the last year, but by far the majority of cases were in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
While reported AIDS cases had been declining steadily in western Europe - dropping 48 percent between 2006 and 2012 - in the east of the WHO's European Region, which includes many Asian former Soviet republics, the number of people newly diagnosed with AIDS increased by 113 percent.
In June, Russia and UNAIDS launched a $16 million USD programme, "to strengthen health systems, ensure better epidemiological surveillance of HIV, and promote the scale up HIV prevention programmes for key populations at higher risk of HIV, especially migrants",
according to UNAIDS.
The programme will run from 2013-2015.