Russia has reached an unprecedented number of HIV cases compared to the rest of Europe. One million Russians are currently living with HIV — a 60 percent increase from ten years ago and an 8 percent increase from the previous year, according to NAM's AIDS Map.
Researchers found that Russia’s 98,177 new HIV diagnoses in 2015 equate to one Russian with HIV out of every 1,493 people in the country. In comparison, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, in the U.S. there are 16.5 people with HIV out of every 100,000 people. Overall, when considering the other 55,230 diagnoses throughout the rest of the World Health Organization’s Europe region, it was found that nearly two-thirds of new HIV cases in Europe are in Russia (despite the country representing less than half the population of Eastern Europe).
So what’s the deal with Russia?
The country of 143 million people has refused to implement programs that could slow — let alone reverse — the high rates of HIV. One reason for this is the social stigma around HIV. In the ultra-conservative and LGBT hostile country, the vast majority of citizens believe that HIV is a result of gay sex (rather than say drug use, or condomless heterosexual sex). Views like these lead to a total misunderstanding about how HIV is transmitted, and create additional reasons for why people don't to get tested.
In 2012 — in a shocking demonstration of ignorance and misinformation — the Russian government blamed condoms for spreading HIV and cast doubt on statistics that showed increasing rates of HIV. In that kind of environment, sexually transmitted infections can spread like wildfire, and HIV rates continued to climb. It's gotten so bad that Russia’s State Duma health committee actually suggested mandatory HIV testing for every couple intent on getting married.
Meanwhile other countries in central Europe (Poland, Cyprus, and Turkey, to name a few) have seen their HIV rates remain low, despite having a significant increase of new diagnoses in 2010. Eastern European countries like Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have seen HIV rates fall since 2010. According to Avert, 1.5 million people were living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in 2014. Of that number, 51 percent had contracted the virus by injection drug use. Russia, by far, has the highest number of injection drug users — 1.8 million compared to nearly 3 million overall in the other regions combined. Yet despite the epidemic of injection drug use, Russia’s government has not implemented programs or initiatives to either fight the drug use or help prevent or treat HIV.