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Russia: Global Protests At Russian Embassies Mark World AIDS Day

Recently the activists of the Association of Substitution Treatment Advocates of Ukraine (ASTAU) posted an overview of the latest events marking the World AIDS Day all over the globe. The major highlight of the analysis was the rallies at the Russian Embassies around the world against the brutal and cruel treatment of people living with drug addiction in Russia. The protests took place in London, Stockholm, Berlin, Bucharest, New York, Sidney, Canberra, Barcelona, Berlin, Toronto, Mexico and Tbilisi.  The demonstrations were facilitated by the International Network of People who Used Drugs (INPUD) and a few other non-profit organizations. Details of the Russian Embassy Protest called “Shame, Russia, Shame” were covered at the special blog dedicated to the event. A big report was also published on the INPUD web-page.

The Russian Embassy Protest was announced in the middle of November when INPUD published the appeal to the Russian Government arguing for changing the attitude towards drug users and the harm reduction programs such as needle exchange and opiate replacement therapy (ORT). The appeal was republished by the ASTAU web-resources as a sign of solidarity with the Russian peers.

The appeal stated that the current treatment of drug users by the Russian government was unjustified and cruel which led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. Unwillingness of the government to legalize of the needle exchange and ORT programs made unavailable to millions of people the services which could help them to attain ‘the highest possible level of health’.

According to INPUD the Russian government ignores the international scientific opinion concerning the influence of such program on the reduction of spread of HIV/AIDS among injection drugs users as since 2005 main ORT medications Methadone and Buprenorphine have been included in the List of Essential Medicines of the World Health Organization. So, availability of these medications is a part of essential human rights.

The INPUD Appeal contained statistics describing the situation with spread of HIV/AIDS among Russian drug users. According to INPUD there are about 5 million people who use drugs in the country, 1,7 million out of them are opiate injection drugs users; out of this number 37,2% are HIV positive, and in some regions this rate is as high as 75%. According to official data about 80% of HIV infection from 1987 to 2008 is associated with injection of drugs. Main way of infecting is use of contaminated syringes and needles. The source of almost 60% of newly identified HIV cases in 2010 was contaminated equipment.

In the same time, only a few needle exchange programs exists in the country. They are run by small NGOs and do not cover all needs.  The Russian government does not support such programs as, according the Russian Minister of Health Care, the provision of the sterile needles and syringes would stimulate the society to be more tolerant to the drug users which is against the Russian law, INPUD reported.

INPUD stated that despite of the recommendation of many respected international organizations the harm reduction programs which allow significant reduction of injection use of drugs such as ORT is still illegal. Moreover, people who advocate such programs are officially considered criminals. The legal status of the needle exchange programs is not clear as well, as all harm reduction programs are viewed by current Russian government as a promotion of drugs.

Use of any drug in Russian is considered to be a crime and new stricter laws which are currently considered by the Russian law makers would allow a criminal prosecution of every drugs user. INPUD reports that this would marginalize people living with drug addiction even more and increase the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country.

INPUD activist urged the Russian government to start the harm reduction programs aimed at medicating of the spread of HIV/AIDS such as ORT and needle exchange, cease the criminal responsibility for use of drugs, provide Anti-Retroviral Therapy for HIV positive drug users, stop discrimination of people who use drugs and respect their human rights, stop  persecution of harm reduction activists and involve the people who use drugs in developing of the policies aimed on improvement of their lives.

Photo by Anton Belitskiy, “Ridus” agency of citizens’ journalism, www.ridus.ru

In Russia itself on December 1, 2011 the non-government organization “Patients’ Cotrol” organized an unauthorized rally next to the building of the Ministry of Health Care urging for more attention to the problems of HIV treatment in Russia. The activists brought to the entrance of the Ministry a few symbolic coffins, a small brass band played funeral march. The rally meant to make the health care officials to understand that absence of adequate treatment of HIV in particular lack of anti-retroviral medications led to many unnecessary deaths. “Patients’ Control” and ‘Ridus” agency reported that some of the participants of the rally were arrested by Russian police.      

Photo by Anton Belitskiy, “Ridus” agency of citizens’ journalism, www.ridus.ru

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