Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Russia on Cusp of Leading the World

Russia is on the cusp of a catastrophe. Yesterday's UNAIDS report says the global rate of new HIV infections peaked in the 1990s. In Russia, the rate of infection continues to accelerate faster than most other countries in the world.

The AIDS virus has swept through injecting drug users across the world's largest country and infected a known 350,000 people. At least three times that number - one to 1.5 million - is HIV positive.

The statistics are chilling. In 2001, 95 per cent of new HIV infections in Russia were transmitted by injecting drug users who shared needles, mainly men. By 2005, almost half of new cases - 43 per cent - were contracted through heterosexual sex - and the victims were mostly young women aged 20 to 29.

The spread of the disease has now reached tipping point. If the estimates are right, and 1.5 million Russians are HIV positive, that is more than 1 per cent of the population, 10 times the rate in the UK. That proportion is the threshold at which the virus starts to move out of the high-risk marginal groups into the general population.

AIDS experts cite the example of South Africa, where, in 1991, 1 per cent of the population was infected. A decade later that figure had grown to 25 per cent and South Africa now has more HIV cases than any other country in the world.
Moscow's mayor said on Tuesday the city banned gay activists from holding a parade because it is morally cleaner than the West, which is caught up in "mad licentiousness".

The gay activists tried to hold their protest against homophobia and discrimination at the weekend despite the ban, but were detained by police, abused by militant Christians and attacked by neo-fascists... Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said such an action would have been a desecration of the sacred monument, and rejected Western criticism of his ban as prejudiced and homophobic.

"Our way of life, our morals and our tradition -- our morals are cleaner in all ways. The West has something to learn from us and should not race along in this mad licentiousness."


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