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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City AIDS Hot Line Sends Call for Help

Moscow's only confidential AIDS hot line might go silent at the end of this month.

Last week, the Moscow Health Inspection Center ordered the hot line and its parent charity organization, We & You, to move out of the shabby four-room office they occupy in the back of the center's complex near Prospekt Mira.

The Health Inspection Center says the AIDS support group hasn't paid for utilities since last summer and its offices are in a part of the building that the city is giving to the newly formed Moscow Ecological Police.

"The situation is quite simple," said Gennady Krimenskoi, the president of We & You. "We cannot pay."

The group survives on grants from the United Nations' AIDS program and money from other foreign sources. In addition to the hot line, We & You provides legal and psychological counseling to people who test positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and their families, runs a support group, conducts surveys and is getting ready to publish a monthly magazine.

The organization has volunteers and 12 employees, who haven't been paid since May but keep coming to work.

"We think that cutting our service will deprive tens of thousands of Muscovites of our help," said a letter the AIDS support group has sent to lawmakers, government officials and dozens of organizations.

The Health Ministry's top AIDS official said he received the letter and is looking into the situation.

"Of course they should have a home," said Mikhail Narkevich, chief of the ministry's AIDS department. "No doubt, society needs these selfless volunteers and I respect their work. But we are a budgetary organization and I cannot give them any money because they are a nongovernmental organization."

The order to move out of the office is also connected to a recent campaign by the Moscow administration to make sure the city controls the use of its property.

The inspection center wants the hot line out before an approaching inspection by the federal Finance Ministry, said the center's deputy chief, Alexander Melnikov. The center has been warned that it cannot sublease its space.

Melnikov's office is lavishly renovated and has Russia's double-headed eagle carved out of cork on the wall. Another wing of the complex is being renovated for the Ecological Police.

Since 1995 the AIDS support group has occupied much grungier rooms, paying no rent in exchange for participating in joint projects with the center.

"They don't do us any good," Melnikov said. "They might do some good for HIV-positive people, but we feel that they haven't fulfilled their obligations to us."

He said the support group was supposed to pass on demographic data provided anonymously by callers, but did not. Krimenskoi said the information was included in the group's annual report.

More than 7,500 people in Russia are registered as HIV positive, according to Krimenskoi, although the real figures are believed to be much higher.

The hot line has answered about 40,000 calls during its three years of operation, Krimenskoi said. The organization has only one phone line, which takes calls from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. during the week and around the clock on weekends.

During peak periods, especially after summer vacations and weekends, times when sexual activity is at its highest, the service answers up to 40 calls a day, the staff members said.

The Ecological Police offered to make space for the hot line in the basement, underneath the AIDS group's current offices. But Krimenskoi said the Health Inspection Center said no.

The AIDS hot line staffers say they hope publicity will force officials to provide them with another space.

"We are not going to leave," said Krimenskoi. "We need to be stubborn. Because it is an organization that helps people."