Author: M. G.
"Russia is dying". These words start "Russia: Death By Indifference", a journalistic project by Gregory Gilderman available on the Pulitzer Center's website. This long and detailed article gives information about what's happening in Russia concerning the HIV/AIDS matter, highlighting the critical situation within the drug users community of the country. It also shows some interviews in Sint Petersburg with drug-users and activists, both HIV+ and HIV-.
From the interviews you can hear that, after the end of the Soviet Union, Western culture and the Western habits arrived in Russia, where people still little knew about what was happening outside of the borders. McDonald's and American movies arrived as well as drugs like heroin and, consequently, HIV. Welcome to the globalization era.
Gilderman's portrait is shocking and, I would say, frustrating too. The government is deliberately ignoring HIV, mainly because at the moment the infection is spreading within neglected groups of society - especially drug users, but also sex workers, men having sex with men (MSM) and prisoners.
I'm afraid that the Russian administration really thinks this is a way to get rid easily of some groups of the population that they don't have high regards for. If this were true, it would be not only a terribly cruel fact, but also an amazingly stupid one. It's as if they think that people are just bad or good and they will never get in touch with each other. This is like living in a fairy tale, when the reality is that the HIV epidemic may start from certain groups of the population, but then it spreads in the entire society.
We're talking about a country that decided to refuse funds from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to avoid the obligation of following the international protocol. They would be required to distribute clean needles and condoms too, but these activities are not completely legal in Russia and by doing so, you face police harassment and criminal penalties. Anti-retroviral drug therapy is now available only for people with full-blown AIDS, furthermore the chance to have treatments for drug users and others from neglected groups is spotty. Soon, the Russian situation could become quite similar to those in some sub-Saharan countries.
What to do? Cry in despair? It's actually relieving to see some of these interviews made by Gilderman. The final two are about two women who are actively fighting against the epidemic and who work directly with those more endangered to become infected. Irina and Sasha are an ex sex worker and an ex drug user and even if their activity is dangerous because it goes against the vision of the government/regime, they don't feel any fear and will not stop in doing what they feel is right. Vladimir Putin was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace and obviously he did not win. Irina and Sasha will probably not receive any kind of international appreciation either - just the blame from the government and from people around them. At least they can always count on DAA's moral support, we love you and your important work!