Andrey Rylkov Foundation
for Health and Social Justice

“Our experience in dealing with HIV is negative” – Russian Academy of Sciences proposing a new approach to combat infection

On 28th of December 2016 the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences has decided to establish a scientific commission on fighting the epidemics. The Commission intends to drastically change the tactics of dealing with HIV: rather than advocating family values, it approves sex education and substitution therapy for drug users and intends to seek the approval of the President and the Government for such innovations. Moreover, the academics are going to ask to increase government funding for HIV research, because “otherwise Russian scientists will never catch up with the West.”

Vadim Pokrovsky, an academician and the head of the Federal AIDS Center, opened a special meeting of the RAS Presidium. He briefed his colleagues on the situation at the domestic and international level: “approximately there were 100 000 new cases of HIV detected in Russia in 2016. For the same period, there were 3 200 new cases in Germany, 2 500 in Canada and 40 thousand in the USA”. It is estimated that more than 1 million people are currently registered as HIV-positive in Russia, 240 thousand of them have already died. “We are only talking about those who know their status. In reality we have up to 1.5 million HIV-positive citizens and the forecast is extremely unfavorable: within the next five years, their number will increase to 2 million or more”, Mr. Pokrovsky said. Answering the questions from his colleagues, the scientist explained that Germany had managed to stop the epidemic thanks to reasonable prevention programs: sex education for teenagers, legalization and strict medical supervision of commercial sex workers, as well as opioid substitution therapy and needle exchange programs for drug users.

“In this regard, we are falling further and further behind other countries, so we need to give a scientific answer to those who hinder the fight against a very dangerous disease,” –  Anatoly Vishnevsky, the Director of HSE Institute of Demography, complained to the audience.  Mr. Vishnevsky admitted that “it is very frustrating” when the officials “are embarrassed to say the word “condom “.

“Society in Russia, from Moscow to the suburbs, doesn’t understand the problem of HIV while the media is concentrating on other things and constantly telling horror stories about Ebola or about Zika virus”, – follows the WHO expert Edward Karamov. “However, Ebola killed zero people in our country while AIDS has killed 200 thousand victims.” He urged the Academy to engage in the fight against the epidemic and make it more scientifically based. “We have to work with the Government, with the Office of the President. They don’t know a lot about this issue. For example, in Moscow some people are trying to convince the Mayor that there is no epidemic in the city so only family values should be advocated,’ – the scientist said.

Director of the Research Institute of Vaccines and Serums, Academician Vitaly Zverev, told in his speech that, as far back as the 1980s, the Soviet scientists had warned the Soviet leadership that HIV ” will be a big problem in a few years.” “But even then there were 5-6 working labs in our Institute while now we have none. According to the academician, although there’s no funding for HIV research, some interesting work on the topic is being done anyway. “But you can’t even compare the amount of research that is carried out in the West with what we have here.”

According to one of his colleagues, “rats and mice don’t have HIV, so we have to work on monkeys and one chimpanzee costs 5 -10 thousand dollars.”  “We’re making the same mistake for many years – if you don’t invest in science, eventually you’ll have to buy medicine produced somewhere else”, – Edward Kamarov agreed.

“The Academy needs to go to the President. Who needs missiles if there will be no population in the country in 50 years. We need to develop a long-standing science-based program on fighting HIV for at least the next 30-40 years. You don’t think that our country is going to exist for only the next 5 years when you develop a program”, –  Vitaly Zverev said.

Vladimir Starodubov, the Vice-President of RAS, summed up the discussion. “The Academy of Sciences can openly declare that our experience in dealing with HIV has proved to be negative. If Western countries took a different approach and achieved results, we should analyze their experience”. He acknowledged that the introduction of sexual education, needle exchange program and substitution therapy must be supported by a “political decision.” The Vice-President of the Academy proposed to establish a special group of RAS scientists “to convey the position of the scientists to decision-makers”. Vladimir Fortov, the President of the Academy, agreed to the initiative.


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