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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Prevention Is the Only AIDS Cure




Russia's static AIDS policy is a back-burner issue that may quickly escalate into a full-blown disaster. Two decades since the disease made its public-awareness debut, Russia's official numbers are still felicitously low - a total of only 23,502 registered cases of HIV infection. Even if you take the cautionary measure of Western specialists and use a factor of 10, they're still surprisingly low, especially when compared to a global total of approximately 33.6 million.


But infection rates are growing fast - by an estimated 358 percent this year alone - and Russia is poorly positioned, both economically and socially, to turn this trend around. Poverty rates are escalating, and drug abuse and alcoholism are rampant. Russia isn't wealthy enough to support widescale education programs, nor is it historically inclined to assign priority status to public health initiatives.


The Health Ministry took an important step Monday by at least acknowledging that things are getting worse. At the same time, the government's proposed strategy for a country of 146 million potential victims is neither an ounce of prevention nor a pound of cure: just 21 million rubles (less than $800,000) to be divided between treatment programs and education campaigns.


It is difficult to predict how far $800,000 will go to head off an AIDS epidemic in Russia. Even in the United States, a country rich enough to support a sophisticated, double-barreled education-treatment approach, an anticipated 20,000 people may die of the disease in 1999.


These are the statistics in a country whose AIDS crisis is on the wane.


On a global level, AIDS has yet to peak - 5.9 million people are expected to have contracted the virus this year, as many as 95 percent of whom may be living in poor and developing countries. When the monthly price for a course of antiretroviral drugs - the most desirable treatment for HIV infection - is roughly $675 worldwide, the only realistic option for poor countries is concentrating on prevention. Russia's creeping strategy may be a case of too little, too late.


A recent Economist report gives reason for hope, however. Uganda is offered as a case study of an at-risk country that was able to curb its epidemic before it exploded, using only minimal resources. President Yoweri Museveni both infused his government departments with a sense of collaborative urgency and gave free rein to foreign-funded non-governmental organizations that were willing to offer their expertise in waging educational campaigns. That country's success story could be a timely object lesson for Russia - if Russia is ready to listen.