More than 1 million Russians are reportedly infected with the HIV virus, a new all-time high for the conservative nation, according to a report from Australian media outlet ABC News.
Citing overflows at Moscow Regional Hospital’s AIDS center, a hemorrhaging budget that’s led to a lack of medicine and an infection rate rising more than 10 percent a year, the report says critics blame Russia’s conservative government for the spread of the virus.
Currently, there are 850,000 Russians living with HIV, but only one-quarter of that number are receiving treatment. A story from The Independent in January reported that since Russia's first recorded case of HIV in 1987, roughly 204,000 people have died due to the virus. In Moscow alone, about 7,000 people have died from related complications
"HIV has entered the mainstream population," head of Russia's Federal AIDS Centre Dr. Vadim Pokrovsky told reporters.
According to charity and HIV and AIDS information outlet AVERT.org, 38.1 million people around the globe have been infected with HIV since 2000 and 25.3 million have died as a result.
Those statistics date back to 2014, but it’s still unusual for Russia’s HIV infection rate to be so high. The majority of HIV infections are in Sub-Saharan Africa at 25.8 million. Asia-Pacific nations follow with 5 million infections.
In Russia, much of the perceived epidemic is taking place in the gay immigrant community. The Australian report tells the story of a 32-year-old man named Sasha, who was originally born in Uzbekistan but several year ago moved to Moscow, where he and his partner contracted HIV.
However, because Sasha is a foreign citizen, he can’t receive free medical care in Moscow. Russian law says he must return to Uzbekistan, which has outlawed homosexuality.
The first HIV case in Russia was reported after the United Soviet Socialist Republic fell in the late 1980s. The country’s response under current President Vladimir Putin has been to focus on conservative, family values rather than treatment.
"Personally I am skeptical [sic] about the benefit of putting money into churches ahead of drugs and education, but many people believe it helps," Pokrovsky said.