My name is Sasha Levin, and I live in Russia. I work for the European Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD). The network unites people who use drugs and those who used drugs in the past, as well as people on opioid substitution therapy (OST) and supporters of our work. ENPUD consists of activists from thirteen post-Soviet and European countries. We work on decriminalising drug use and promoting the health and well-being of people who use drugs. Furthermore, ENPUD fights stigmatisation and discrimination.
“Drug use should cease to be a ground for denying people medical care, including HIV treatment”
The current situation in Russia
The current situation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) greatly worries me. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova are the European leaders of HIV prevalence rates. This is evidenced by data from joint research conducted by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe.
In terms of the spread of HIV, Russia is the leader among European countries.
“In one year, 159,000 new HIV cases were recorded in Europe as a whole, whereas 104,000 infections were registered in Russia alone.”
The research has also revealed that, in most cases, the virus was transmitted through heterosexual sex (56%) and injecting drug use (30%). Yet, in spite of these alarming numbers, Russia continues to oppose the work of non-governmental organisations that are responding to HIV. Many organisations have been closed down, and funds are stopped.
NGO’s fight to survive
Moreover, some Russian NGOs receive huge fines that they cannot pay. At the beginning of this year, a Moscow court ordered the Andrey Rylkov Foundation (ARF) to pay 800,000 rubles (15,000 US dollars) for publishing so-called ‘drug propaganda’. So, Moscow’s only harm reduction NGO had been given a potentially devastating fine for doing the work it is meant to do. Amnesty International described the fine as ‘suffocating’. ARF already battles Russia’s alarming drug use-related HIV epidemic with a skeleton crew. Luckily, the organisation managed to pay the fine this time, due to the generosity of private donations from people who support the work of ARF. To fight the survive continues however, as a next penalty can be expected.
It’s necessary to unite forces
ARF’s challenging predicament is just one illustration of the reasons why Russia leads Europe in the spread of HIV. Growing HIV prevalence in Russia is bad news for all people and countries in Europe. Today, it is necessary to unite forces – politicians, economists and community members – and declare that the situation is extremely dangerous. We need to do our utmost to be heard and stop the HIV epidemic.