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Hiv-epidemic in Eastern Europe

by Editorial Staff in Health & Body , 08 juli 2010

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

A lack of attention for 'harm reduction' measures - clean needles for drug addicts for example - is causing hiv and tuberculosis epidemics in Eastern Europe and Russia, says Gerry Stimson, director of the IHRA and Professor emeritus at the Imperial College in London. At the moment barely 2 eurocents per drug user is invested in harm reduction, measures aimed at tackling the negative effects of drug using for the users themselves, as well as their environment and the society.

This was the conclusion of a IHRA (International Harm Reduction Association) report at the opening of the Harm Reduction Conference 2010 in Liverpool. Harm production programs offer users access to methadone, clean needles and support. 'Research shows that altogether a mere amount of 160 million dollars per year is being invested in harm reduction. Barack Obama's inauguration as president had that kind of budget.'

Russia has an estimated 1,6 million intravenous drug users, half of whom are hiv-positive. In the past decade the number of drug infections multiplied by ten from 100,000 to over one million. Intravenous drug use is a very important factor in spreading hiv. The chance of getting infected via a needle is three times as high as via having sex. In Bangladesh 90% of new hiv infections is due to drug use; in Russia this percentage is 66 and in Indonesia it's half that.


The IHRA claims there is enough proof that harm reduction is an effective measure against illegal drug use, criminality and violence. The programs keep users healthier and some of them can even get a job. The programs are also very cost-effective: every euro spent, saves three to seven euros in other costs.

Still, most countries don't spend enough on harm reduction measures. 'Governments and even filantropic organisations would rather have the entire population of drug users just disappear,' says Stimson. In about ninety mid - and lower income countries the entire drug user population has no access whatsoever to hiv-infection preventative measures, like methadone.

In seventy countries there are no needle exchange programs. China is winning ground however, shows the IHRA report. The country has set up several good programs. Iran is also a surprising positive example, even in trying to convince other countries that these programs are in line with Islamic laws.

Jails are breeding spots for tuberculosis and HIV

Russia and neighboring Uzbekistan are unfortunately going in the opposite direction. 'Methadone is illegal in Russia, even recommending the introduction is illegal,' says Anya Sarang of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice.

Local as well as international organizations have set up clean needle exchange programs years ago already but many of these have now been banned by Russian authorities. 'The Russian Ministry of Public Health claims harm reduction is inefficient and many civil servants are convinced there is no such problem to begin with,' says Sarang.

Not just HIV is on the rise. Intravenous drug users with HIV have a really high chance of contracting tuberculosis. The Russian jails are infamous for being breeding nests for the spreading of tuberculosis and HIV infections. Russia is the country with the second highest number of detainees in the world: about a million. The USA ranks number one on this list with one out of every hundred adult Americans doing time in jail.




In the New Issue of Gay News, 332, April 2019

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