Russian government to set up HIV|AIDS committee
Russia's government will establish a coordination committee for combating HIV/AIDS by the end of May, the chief doctor said Monday.
The disease could have dire consequences for Russia, already under threat from a demographic crisis, as official statistics say a total of 350,000 people are HIV+, but independent experts claim the figure is about three times higher.
"The government has been instructed, and we will form a coordination committee chaired by a deputy prime minister to oversee the government's multi-sectoral efforts to combat HIV/AIDS," Onishchenko told a European and Central Asian AIDS conference in Moscow Monday.
Presidential aide Igor Shuvalov said the committee had to include representatives of civil society.
"I think this agency should include representatives of non-commercial organizations," Shuvalov said.
He added that the fight against infectious diseases, including AIDS, would be a key issue at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. The other two priorities declared by Russia are energy security and education.
Shuvalov said Russia should opt for counseling and education rather than any blanket bans in the campaign against AIDS.
"There must be a large-scale propaganda effort, which should allow both condoms and syringes for people to choose from," he said, adding that people who wanted syringes should be able to obtain them in a specially designated place.
Needle and syringe exchange programs when sterile needles are provided in exchange for used injecting syringes to reduce HIV transmission risks have been in operation in Europe for the past 20 years and have had some success in such counties as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
When talking about another drug treatment program widely spread in Europe and the United States, Shuvalov said Russia was unprepared yet to introduce substitution treatment when HIV-infected drug addicts are gradually transferred from hard to softer drugs, using a synthetic drug, usually methadone or buprenorphine, to treat patients dependent on opioids like heroin or morphine.
Onishchenko concurred with Shuvalov, and added that anti-AIDS efforts stumbled over discrimination against HIV+ people.
"We cannot even use the anti-retroviral drugs available in the regions because people do not want to and are afraid of treatment," he said, citing St. Petersburg where more than 1,000 people officially need treatment but only 68 are receiving it.
As a solution to the problem, Mikhail Grishankov, the deputy chairman of the lower chamber of parliament's security committee, called on the Ministry of Education and Science to train specialists in sex education as a school subject.
Vadim Pokrovsky, head of Russia's federal AIDS research center, said earlier that most new cases were registered as a result of sexual contacts rather than through sharing dirty needles, which had long been considered the prime source of the disease in Russia.
"Teachers at schools are not ready today to talk to students about this," Grishankov said.
Pokrovsky said the number of HIV/AIDS infected Russians per 100,000 people continued to grow, reaching 225.1 as compared with 200.7 in 2004.
The first international parliamentary conference on HIV/AIDS will take place in the State Duma on June 8 and gather representatives from G8 countries.