May 17, 2004
As Russia prepared to commemorate World AIDS Memorial Day on Sunday, AIDS activists and government officials stressed that the country has a serious lack of adequate information about the disease. "Our society is not ready, it doesn't understand what it's dealing with," said Vadim Pokrovsky, the top official at the Federal AIDS Center. "We spend $1 million per year on awareness programs. We should be spending $70 million."
While three-quarters of Russians think that HIV/AIDS can be prevented, only 59 percent believe regular condom use reduces infection risk, according to the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey, a Russia-wide poll of 6,115 people led by the University of North Carolina. Sex education is practically absent in schools, and parents were raised in an era when safe sex was not discussed. Many youths learn about HIV/AIDS from media and friends.
That lack of understanding leads to further infections and discrimination against those infected, said Rian Van de Braak, head of the nongovernmental AIDS Foundation East West. The groups most affected by the epidemic -- drug users, sex workers and prisoners -- are often scapegoats for the disease, she said. The portion of new infections blamed on heterosexual transmission grew from 5 percent in 2001 to 20 percent in 2003. Among the findings of a recent Focus-Media poll of 1,200 Moscow residents: