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In response to the staggering rate of HIV infection, Russia plans to distribute lifesaving antiretroviral drugs to at least 30,000 HIV-positive people, Agence France-Presse quoted federal AIDS research center head Vadim Pokrovsky as saying on Wednesday. This is an important change in policy from a country that often dismissed HIV as a Western disease and not worthy of government-sponsored treatment initiatives.
Vladimir Putin has also pledged to earmark $120 million in funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and education efforts, which comes shortly after a $209 million pledge from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria to be distributed over a period of five years to help fight HIV/AIDS.
Pokrovsky pointed out that outside the major urban centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, there is a severe shortage of medical personnel who are qualified to administer these drugs to HIV-positive patients. Though the government was able to provide antiretrovirals to only about 3,500 people this year, Pokrovsky hopes to increase that number to upward of 35,000 by the end of next year.
This aggressive campaign against HIV/AIDS is sorely needed in a country whose HIV infection rate is among the most rapidly increasing in the world, with about 1 million documented infections, according to the United Nations. The Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., has projected that number could reach as high as 14.5 million by 2020.
A Stanford University study that will be published in the forthcoming issue of the medical journal AIDS claims that targeting the intravenous drug-using population in Russia--a population that accounts for 75% of known infections--as well as people who don't use drugs is the most important step in fighting the epidemic.
"Almost no injection-drug users are getting antiretroviral drug therapy," said Douglas Owens, coauthor of the study. (The Advocate)