Russia has begun a federal registry of people with HIV, raising concerns the list could be used to discriminate or isolate people with the virus.
The Federal Register of HIV patients launched on January 1, Health Ministry Spokesman Oleg Salagai told Tass, to help ensure patients receive antiviral medication efficiently and to provide standardize data on the epidemic.
“The first and most important task is to assess and collect full information on how many HIV patients we have, what treatment plans have been arranged for them, what medicines have been prescribed to them,” said Deputy Health Minister Sergei Krayevoi.
Russia’s HIV rate is the highest in Europe, and one of the highest in the world. Heterosexual sex will soon top intravenous drug use as the main means of infection.
According to the ministry, 824,000 people have been registered out of an estimated 850,000 patients. (AIDS activists claim there may be at least another 500,000 undiagnosed cases.) A proposal to make registration compulsory was rejected by both the Justice Ministry and the Health Ministry.
“This can already be considered a threat to the entire nation,” activist Vadim Pokrovsky told The New York Times.
Still, less than 40% of HIV-positive Russians receive antiviral drugs, even though nearly all of the $338 million budget for AIDS care goes to medicine—with almost nothing for preventive education.
The Russian Orthodox Church opposes comprehensive sex education and contraception, favoring “family values” as a solution to the epidemic. Even safer-sex kits with free needles and condoms must be labeled “foreign agents,” or else the nonprofits that distribute them run afoul of the law.
“HIV is not a personal problem, it is a social problem, and it should be solved as a social problem,” says Elena Plotnikova of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice. “The basic attitude of the government is: You made a bad decision and we are not going to help you.”