Data show a record number of new cases last year
From Rachel Savage
LONDON, November 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Russia and some countries of the former Soviet Union risk developing beyond the control of the HIV epidemic, experts said Wednesday, after data showed a record number of new cases last year.
Most of the new cases in the former Soviet Union in 2017 were of heterosexual sex because the disease spreads beyond high-risk groups, according to research by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
The increased rate of new diagnoses in the region since 2012 is due to a global decline, and Masoud Dara, a WHO specialist in HIV, said this could be an "early indication of an over-crowded population."
"HIV begins with key populations – meaning drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men – but after that they increase exponentially … if there is no more intervention," Dara told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In Russia, official data show that in 2017 there were more than 104,000 new diagnoses of HIV, with total cases of more than 1.2 million. Experts said it was probably an underlining.
"We do not have enough drugs, we do not treat every patient," said Nikolai Lunchenkov, a doctor at the Moscow Regional Center for AIDS.
"We are increasing the number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy, but this is still not enough."
The number of HIV treatment courses purchased by the Russian government increased by 37% to around 360,000 last year, according to the Coalition for the Preparation of Treatment, a non-governmental organization.
However, methadone, which the study has shown, helps prevent the injection of drug users to HIV, is banned in Russia. Cases rose in Crimea, since it was annexed from Ukraine in 2014, according to the Moscow Times.
"We also do not have enough data on men who have sex with other men because of high levels of stigma," said Lunchenkov, who is openly gay.
According to official data, the number of Russian men who were infected with HIV by sexual intercourse with another man more than doubled to 695 between 2008 and 2015.
Discrimination against LGBT + means that those at risk of HIV / AIDS are scared to seek testing and treatment, experts say.
In 2016, Russia set up the European second least LGBT friendly country ILGA-Europe, a network of European LGBT groups.
A request that was introduced in 2012 for some international NGOs working in Russia to register as "foreign agents" has led to a decrease in organizations working with HIV-susceptible groups, Oli Stevens, a HIV-based researcher with headquarters in Britain.
"The message was very clear, MSM (men who have sex with men) are not us, they are others, they are not part of the society we are trying to build," Stevens said.
In the rest of the former Soviet Union, new cases of infected drug users fell by 45 percent to 6,218 per year over a decade, while new cases of heterosexual transmission rose 59 percent to almost 18,000.
Activists blame widespread discrimination against LGBT people because of an eight-fold increase in transmission among men who have sex with men at more than 1,000 cases per year.
"State-sponsored homophobia and transfobia have become a key issue," said Yuri Tachi of the Eurasian Coalition for Male Health, who supports men with HIV / AIDS in the region.
"In many countries, governments do not accept (LGBT community) what it is, even though MSM is a vulnerable group," he said.
"When human rights for LGBT people (people) are not accepted and not free and safe for all, there can be no effective prevention of HIV," said Yoursky.
HIV diagnoses fall in the European Union and the European Economic Area, thanks to widespread testing, rapid treatment and the introduction of prophylactics before exposure.
The rate of transmission between 2015 and 2017 fell by 20 percent among men who have sex with men in the region, according to WHO data.
Nevertheless, the experts warned of complacency.
"If you look at the late state of the diagnosis, which is still quite high, it tells us that there is still a lot to be done," said Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM, the British HIV / AIDS Humanitarian Organization.
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