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Thursday, October 29, 2009

How the world views the HIV/AIDS epidemic is in some cases a stark difference to how we view it here in the states. I just read an article and posted a message on about how Kenya is looking to provide resources to gays for the Census. Problem with that in Africa is, there is punishable jail time that accompanies your admission of being gay. Well who do you think will come forward to get "education" on HIV/AIDS prevention if they think they get thrown in jail? So I clearly question the motives of the Kenyan government and precisely what it expects to gain from such fruitless efforts.

Well that leads us to Russia who also made the news in their awareness of this epidemic spreading. The truth is Russia has no awareness plans because they have only subscribed to the failed "abstinence" strategy. They have come to realize that ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away.

AIDS specialists urged Russia to adopt successful strategies like needle-exchange programs and heroin substitutes such as methadone for drug addicts.

The number of HIV infections in Russia has doubled in the past eight years and there is evidence that in this region the virus is increasingly being spread by heterosexual sex.

The rapid growth of the epidemic in Russia is in contrast to sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia, where prevalence of the virus fell during the same eight-year period, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations AIDS agency. So while other nations were addressing the issues and meeting them head to reduce their numbers and deaths, Russia has climbed to double digits.

Russia’s chief public health officer, Gennady Onishchenko, told a regional AIDS conference Wednesday that Russia is "emphatically against" the use of drug replacement therapy. Meanwhile, he criticized programs that exchange clean needles for used ones, saying such programs may promote illicit drug sales and HIV transmission.

Both are part of a so-called harm reduction strategy, in contrast to the just-say-no programs that urge abstinence from drugs and risky sex. Russian health officials say they are committed overall to a "healthy lifestyles" rather than a harm reduction approach to improving public health.

That isn’t good enough, a number of foreign experts say.

"International studies show that an abstinence-based message on drug use or sex simply doesn’t work," said Robin Gorna, executive director of the International AIDS Society. In Russia, she said, "it does appear that ideology is getting in the way of public health care policy."

Russia has increased spending on AIDS programs by 33 times since 2006, making it a central part of an ambitious new national health care strategy. It has expanded drug treatment dramatically for AIDS sufferers and is among the leaders worldwide in reducing the incidence of transmission of the disease between mothers and their babies.

But many Russian officials view harm reduction efforts as encouraging criminal or shameful behavior. The position has left it increasingly isolated, as China recently embraced such programs, foreign AIDS experts here said.

Russia has some highly successful needle exchange programs and free condom programs, several foreign specialists said, but many have been paid for through grants from the international Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

Now those grants are being terminated under Global Fund rules, the specialists said, because Russia is too wealthy to qualify for them.

Chris Beyrer, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said Russian officials "have never really embraced" needle exchange, free condom distribution and other harm reduction techniques.

"It is the reason I think that they continue to have one of the most severe epidemics in the region," said Beyrer, director of Hopkins’ AIDS International Training and Research Program. He was in Moscow for the regional meeting, which runs through Friday.

AIDS was virtually unknown in Russia and elsewhere in the Soviet Union prior to the collapse of Communism. What started as an epidemic among male injection drug users here in the late 1990s has gradually moved into the communities of sex workers. By 2007 about 44 percent of new infections in Russia were among women, according to UNAIDS, raising fears it could move into the general population.

Onishchenko blamed the increase in HIV infections to the surge in Afghan poppy production over the past decade, a trend that has flooded the former Soviet Union with heroin. Amazing, Russia is now blaming Afghanistan!

People living in the region are routinely asked to provide health certificates that reveal their HIV status, the report found. Hospital workers often casually identify HIV-positive patients to bystanders and co-workers, U.N. researchers said, and hospitals frequently segregate HIV-positive patients, treat them with scorn or charge them extra, hidden fees.

HIV-positive children face discrimination at school, including forced disclosure of their status and segregation from other students, while in the labor sector, many employers are wary of hiring HIV-positive individuals.

AIDS activists say that discrimination drives many of those infected to avoid testing and treatment. This is the real problem, the lack of equality and freedom from discrimination prevents education.

*This article, originally posted by the Association Press was amended by Familyblendz for this blog posting.