Moscow discusses HIV strategy
The Third International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECAAC) has been held in Moscow. It was organised jointly by the Russian authorities, UNAIDS, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the International AIDS Society, in cooperation with Russian NGOs and with government support. Each of the three days was devoted to a different topic: the HIV epidemic, and measures in response to it; prevention among the most vulnerable groups; treatment and care. About 2,500 specialists from 60 countries have been attending, among whom 30% are medical practitioners, 9% scientists and experts, 31% – from AIDS agencies, and the rest from state organizations and the media. Opening the conference, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, said that over the past 5 years there had been a ten-fold increase in the number of patients receiving anti-retroviral treatment – from 400,000 to 4 million.
Figures cited by Gennady Onishchenko, the Head of Rospotrebnadzor, show that the main method of infection is through intravenous drug use. The Executive Director of the Global Fund, Michel Kazachkin, said that in dealing with intravenous drug users it is important not to criminalise them but they should receive special preventative advice. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia there needs to be a compromise between substitution treatment of addiction such as handing out drug substitutes, and law enforcement: at present in most of these countries substitution therapies are illegal. Doctor Gennady Onishchenko said in a joint session with civil society that he did not consider such therapies successful. He asked for more focus on prevention. But the others in the session did not concur.
First Deputy Chair of the Duma Security Committee M Grishankov, Director of the regional NGO AIDS-Infolink, A Peryshkina, a representative of the Russian Association of HIV sufferers, V Mayanovksy, and the head of the Chelyabinsk Foundation “Protect Yourself” M Grishin held short discussions in which they criticized the fact that no representative of the Russian government attended the session. Onishchenko, the sole official present, explained that First Deputy Prime Minister Shuvalov was supposed to attend, but was unable to come. Mr Onishchenko read out a message of greetings from Prime Minister Putin to the participants in the conference, in which he said, inter alia, that the region can only prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by means of close international cooperation, more intensive preventative programmes, and better access to treatment and medicines for sufferers. However, civil society representatives working on prevention among the most vulnerable groups such as homosexuals, intravenous drug users and sex workers, said that such work would soon be completely terminated because the Global Fund has completed its large projects in Russia in this field. Mr Mayanovsky commented that government support was focused more on stopping smoking and alcoholism than on HIV/AIDS.