Russia Faces AIDS Epidemic, Government Blames Moral Lapses

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With 1 million confirmed cases, Russia is experiencing an HIV/AIDS epidemic, and it seems like no one knows how to handle it. The response from the Russian government is conservative and prejudiced, and puts blame on the affected people for lacking morals.

Rising Epidemic

According to a UNAIDS report from July 2016, Eastern Europe and central Asia make up the only region in the world where AIDS continues to rise rapidly. More than 80 percent of new cases in that region were in Russia. Even though the majority of cases affect key populations, such as drug users and gay men, it also spreads quickly through the rest of the population, especially heterosexual women, because condoms are somewhat difficult to come by.

“Condoms have practically been banned because they lead to people having sex, and sex is risky,” said Dr. Orlova-Morozova, head of Moscow Regional Hospital’s AIDS department, to ABC. The hospital currently has 38,000 patients with HIV or AIDS. He said that there is not enough money for medicine, so they have to choose who to treat and turn away many.

Rejected by Society

This view on HIV/AIDS is so conservative and biased it is hard to believe. A poster on the hospital wall where Dr. Orlova-Morozova works says: “The majority of cases of HIV/AIDS are due to the weaknesses and improper behavior on behalf of the infected person.” People who are HIV positive often lose their jobs, their friends, and are pushed out from society.

Under President Putin’s rule, life in Russia has shifted back toward a moral standard that was commonplace during the Soviet Union era, and religious leaders have a lot of influence. The approach commonly adopted is ‘Family, fidelity and faith.’ According to LaSky, an outreach organization for gay men in Moscow, there was a “scientific” paper at a recent AIDS convention that was called “How prayer can cure HIV.”

The government has banned sex education in schools and it is punishable by law to even mention sex or AIDS to children under 15 years of age if you’re a teacher. It is estimated that over half of the HIV cases in Russia are spread via intravenous drug use. But despite the fact that methadone treatment is the most successful way of treating drug addiction according to WHO, methadone therapy has been illegal since Putin came to power. There is also no way to hand out sterile needles.

Distrust of the Government

The hospitals can’t even help everyone they would want to–people with foreign citizenships living in Russia are not entitled to free medical help. A man that ABC talked to, called Sasha, was born in Uzbekistan but lived in Moscow when he discovered he was HIV positive. To get free care he would have to go back home, where homosexuality is illegal. He can’t even work to make his own money for treatment, since he would have to prove he’s HIV-free to get a job in Russia.

Social worker Maksim Malyshev thinks it is the government’s attitude that is the problem.

In my view, the problem of HIV infection in Russia exists because the people whose job it is to find ways of preventing HIV in Russia are doing a crap job. They are living in some kind of fantasy world of their own, and they have no desire to listen about science-based methods and to the specialists who are working on this problem.

Evgeny Sorokoumov, project manager for LaSky, agrees, saying, “Putin wants to show the world that our country is strong. No one needs us. We can just die.”

The UNAIDS report concludes by stating that changes in behavior, comprehensive sex education, and distribution of condoms are important measures to prevent any further spread of HIV. But in Russia’s case, it seems to be the will that is lacking, not just the way.

Emma Von Zeipel
Emma Von Zeipel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. She is originally from one of the islands of Stockholm, Sweden. After working for Democratic Voice of Burma in Thailand, she ended up in New York City. She has a BA in journalism from Stockholm University and is passionate about human rights, good books, horses, and European chocolate. Contact Emma at



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