Russian History


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) likely was brought to the Soviet Union by students from countries with high levels of incidence of the disease. In 1987, after the first case of AIDS was confirmed in Russia, the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union passed the strictest anti-AIDS law in the world, making the knowing transmittal of the infection a criminal offense punishable by up to eight years in jail. A 1995 law, which has been criticized vehemently for its human rights implications and the cost of its administration, stipulates that all visitors remaining more than three months must prove that they are not infected with the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The government has established a diagnostic and screening infrastructure for AIDS prevention and control at the central and subnational levels. This system has been criticized heavily, however, because it tests only populations with little chance of infection, and because it fails to allocate scarce funds to root causes of AIDS transmittal such as infection from hospital procedures and reuse of hypodermic needles. The release of statistics on the incidence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases has been extremely slow. In late 1995, the Ministry of Health reported that 1,023 Russians, including 278 children, had been registered as having HIV, and that to that point 160 Russians, of whom seventy-three were children, had died of AIDS. Before 1992 several mass infections of children occurred in medical facilities.

Official diagnoses of HIV increased 50 percent from 1993 to 1994. However, according to an official of the Imena AIDS support group, which is devoted to rehabilitation of HIV victims, the official statistics are understated at least tenfold because Russians in the groups most at risk--prostitutes, homosexuals, and drug users--have reason to fear that results will not remain confidential and so refuse AIDS testing. Although the 1990 Law on Prevention of AIDS mandates confidentiality of medical records, in practice jobs often are lost and social services denied after a positive diagnosis. The highest incidence of HIV is in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov-na-Donu, Volgograd, and the Republic of Kalmykia, the last three of which have medical facilities where unsanitary procedures have resulted in mass transmission of the virus. The majority of reported HIV-positive individuals are drug users.

As in the Soviet period, the public receives little information about precautions against AIDS or the identity of the high-risk categories in society, and AIDS sufferers meet much intolerance in Russian society. Because the disease has been associated with foreigners, government officials and the public have ignored the need for preventive measures among Russians. AIDS transmittal is increased by a chronic shortage of condoms (which Soviet medical officials euphemistically called "Article Number 2") and by the lack of disposable hypodermic syringes in hospitals and clinics, which results in the repeated use of unsterilized needles.