In 2015, the number of confirmed HIV/AIDS cases in Russia exceeded 1 million people for the first time. Cases have increased by 149% since 2006, with 10 new cases diagnosed an hour, and 80 people a day dying from AIDS-related conditions.
This is a culmination of a series of awful policies, practices and ignorance, that will, if rates continue unabated, to over 2 million cases by 2020 (Increasing by 10%-15% annually). At this threshold, this is considered a generalized epidemic.
You can often chart the story of an HIV denialist live on social media. From dismissing the scientific truth about the virus to the development of Aids symptoms and ultimately to death, the progression is as predictable as it is heartbreaking.
“They said that if I don’t give my son the therapy, he’d die over the New Year holidays. Of course, I didn’t give him anything,” wrote Sofia Kuzmina on 20 March 2013. Seven months pass, and she writes again. “Now he isn’t smiling, he isn’t sitting in his buggy. They killed my son. He’s like a phoenix. Damned you Aids!” The boy died just before his fourth birthday.
In Russia, a series of children’s deaths are blamed on a variety of online groups and prominent figures claiming that HIV and AIDS are myths, and can be cured by other methods other than Anti-Retroviral treatment. Many children are left untreated by their parents, and thus, Russia is now sentencing parents to house arrest for their deaths, specifically for child neglect.
Sexual education must be comprehensive. It must talk about all the different ways of comprehension, and people must be educated about diseases, treatments, and legal rights. Abstinence-only education does not work, and it has been shown in Russia that disease rates are still increasing, in spite of church intervention.
LGBT populations are among the most stigmatized, and it has been shown that the disease infection rates are high in areas with high anti-LGBT laws and stigma.
By making laws that fight for the equality of LGBT people, giving them housing rights, employment, and actually fighting against gay bashing, transphobic killings (which primarily affect Black transwomen), and talking about LGBT issues (including sex education) from an early age, this is one way to slow infection rates.
Other countries have taken on the role of destigmatizing sex work and drug use. While Russia has made it harder to seek treatment for addiction (you have to be free of drugs before you go into rehab or receive Anti-Retrovirals). In many places, they go on to create needle exchanges, and low-cost addiction centers. They offer free anonymous testing for sex workers, and at needle exchange sites, there are counselors there, to help addicts receive rehab advice and resources, should they be ready to seek help. We can reduce mother-child HIV transmission by advocating for caesarian section births, immediate treatment for the child post-birth, and providing formula for children, since breastmilk is one of the ways that the virus can be transmitted.
We must continue to advocate for the affordability of medication, and push for the use of generic medications too. PrEP is also a way to go, but unfortunately in many places it is prohibitively expensive. Mass media ads talking about treatment centers, and building centers in accessible areas of the community play a major role in the slowing down of infection rates. In Southern Central Africa, infection rates have been halved. And in Thailand, and Cuba, mother-child transmission has been completely eliminated.
We still have a long way to go, and we must remember that this disease can make a stronger comeback if we do not learn our lessons. On an intersectional level, we must make sure that Sexual Education is well funded. We must know that there are places to give out free contraceptives. We must make sure that medication is affordable, and that we must make people comfortable and willing enough to seek help. If we do, we will eventually reach the 90-90-90 goal, which seeks to diagnose at least 90% of people with HIV/AIDS, 90% of those who are diagnosed receiving anti-retroviral treatment,