AIDS And Foreign Policy


AIDS experts are aghast to see that rates of HIV in Russia have doubled in the past 8 years, reports the Washington Post.  Russia’s ‘healthy lifestyles’ program and advocacy of abstinence have not been effective in combating the problem, international AIDS workers at an Eastern Europe and Central Asia AIDS Conference have argued.  Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Yakovenko has apparently defended Russia’s ‘humanitarian but not dubious methods’ (the ‘dubious’ one being the widely-favored methadone substitution program – illegal in Russia) and advocated the increasing involvement of the Russian Orthodox Church in curbing insalubrious lifestyle choices.

So will any advice be heeded?  The problem of HIV in Russia seems to remain, in the Kremlin’s eyes, inherently linked to the stream of opium flooding out of Afghanistan, a problem politicians have suggested lies in the hands of NATO and US forces in the region.  At the beginning of this month, the head of Russia’s drug control agency complained that US and NATO forces were not doing enough to counter opium production and that the US should to ‘take more adequate measures’ to stem the flow of drugs feeding Russia’s 2-2.5 million addicts.  Just last week, we saw Medvedev blaming coalition forces for failing to secure the borders and suppress drug manufacturing, following a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report that showed Russia was awash with Afghan heroin.

ITAR-TASS says that cooperation on Afghanistan will be at the forefront of the agenda of the upcoming Russia-NATO Council summit in Brussels on December 15-17.  Increased Russia-NATO cooperation on the issue may be a positive step forward, but whether it will herald changes flowing down as far as Russia’s HIV-positive drug users, or indeed those who have contracted the virus without intravenous drug use, is quite another matter.