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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

AIDS Test Bill Roundly Criticized

Foreigners, gay rights activists and doctors on Wednesday condemned a draft law that would require blood tests for all foreign residents and anyone else deemed to be at risk of spreading AIDS in Russia. They called the move discriminatory and counterproductive. If parliament adopts the draft law, which also calls for deportation of foreigners who test positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, it would effectively revive a Soviet-era law that had fallen into disuse. It could also renew obligatory testing for homosexuals, prostitutes and other groups considered to be at risk of contracting HIV. The new draft got initial approval from the committee in early May and is up for a final vote on Thursday. The committee plans to formally submit the bill to the Duma next week, said Svetlana Umetskaya, an aide to the committee. "It's very discriminatory. It's a violation of human rights, and it's impossible to implement," said Kevin Gardner, American co-director of Aesop, an organization that educates Russians on how to avoid contracting the virus. "It does not do anything to stop the spread of AIDS. Testing is not prevention." "This is not the way to fight AIDS," said Eric Downing, a doctor at the American Medical Center. Most Western countries have long since recognized that education on safe sex, not massive testing, is the only effective way to battle AIDS, Downing added. The clause on foreigners was included mainly to appeal to public perceptions of AIDS as a foreign disease, Downing said, adding: "I don't think it will be very effective, but it's politically very rewarding." Foreigners who know they are HIV-positive will do anything they can to avoid the test for fear of deportation, said Julie Stachowiak, president of an AIDS-awareness program called AIDS infoshare. She added that she had been inundated with calls from worried HIV-positive foreigners living in Moscow since news about the draft was published Wednesday in The Moscow Times. Gay rights activists said a second part of the clause on obligatory testing, ordering tests for anyone "who, according to epidemiological data is at risk of massive spreading of the HIV infection," could mean a blanket testing requirement for homosexuals. "It gives them the right to test anyone whose lifestyle they don't like," said Irina Savelyeva, co-director of Aesop. Fearful of being blacklisted, homosexuals would be likely to avoid medical treatment. She added, "It defeats the purpose" of limiting the spread of AIDS by discouraging potential carriers from being tested for fear of suffering discrimination. Alla Shutova, head of a polyclinic that specializes in blood tests, said neither foreigners nor gays were among the major sources of HIV infection in Russia. Nearly half the 740 Russians officially registered as carrying HIV were infected by re-use of contaminated needles in hospitals, while most others caught the disease as a complication of venereal diseases, Shutova said.