Russia Launches National Registry Of HIV-Positive People

Will it improve care or create more discrimination?

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.

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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: A health educator uses a syringe to take a drop of blood from a man's finger while conducting an HIV test at the Whitman-Walker Health Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center September 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. Whitman-Walker Health is observing the annual National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with free testing at four different locations in the District of Columbia, where the overall HIV rate is 2.7 percent. Anything over one percent is considered a severe epidemic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"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.

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“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.”