President Vladimir Putin: The problem we are looking at today is global in nature and concerns not only Russia but the entire world. We are talking about measures to combat the spread of HIV infection.
The first HIV case in our country was, as you know, registered in 1987. By that time this disease had already reached epidemic proportions in other countries. Today, more than 42 million people around the world have HIV. Up to 14,000 new cases are diagnosed every day and around 15 million people have contracted the disease in the last two years.
More than 342,000 people have now been registered as HIV carriers in Russia. The experts think, however, that the actual number of carriers is considerably higher and most of them are people under the age of 35. It is clear that the scale of HIV infection is having a negative impact on the country’s demographic situation. The fact that more and more women are contracting the disease is particularly worrying as this leads to the birth of children also infected with the virus.
The situation in Russia so far is above all one of a concentrated epidemic, that is to say, an epidemic concentrated among several risk groups, but specialists are already observing a dangerous trend of infection moving beyond the confines of these groups. This is a serious situation that requires us to take the appropriate action. We need more than words; we need action, and the whole of Russian society must get involved. Of course, the people directly involved in dealing with HIV infection should take the lead in this area, but politicians, teachers, cultural figures and the mass media should all play an active part in this work. Our common task is to promote a healthy way of life and raise awareness of the importance of moral values.
As you know, the Healthcare national project allocates sizeable funds to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of HIV-AIDS and viral hepatitis. This year alone, 3.1 billion roubles have been allocated. This is many times more than has ever been allocated to this work in the past. But our objective is even broader in scope: we need to reduce the spread of AIDS to a minimum. In this respect I propose that we discuss the following issues today.
First, we must develop a long-term strategy for combating this epidemic and overcoming its consequences. The five-year sub-programme Anti-AIDS/HIV ends this year. It was part of the federal targeted programme “Prevention and Fight against Diseases of a Social Nature”. Over this period the rate of HIV infection was reduced from 88,000 cases in 2001 to 35,000 cases last year – that is to say, the infection rate more than halved.
This programme also provided support to research groups looking for effective means to prevent AIDS and new treatment methods. I think that when drawing up the programme for the next five years we need to include measures to prevent the spread of HIV infection.
Our second task is to organise accurate and objective monitoring of the epidemic. Russia is one of the few countries in the world to keep combined statistics on HIV infection. These statistics have been kept at both federal and regional since 1987. Today, however, we need to establish a monitoring system that meets common international standards. We need to establish a comprehensive data base that will enable us to make a real evaluation of the causes of the illness and the effectiveness of medical and social preventive measures so that we can make the right responses in our fight against HIV and, of course, also take into account the experience of other countries.
As you know, the international community is giving a lot of attention to these issues. At Russia’s initiative, the AIDS issue has been included on the agenda for the upcoming G8 summit in St Petersburg.
The next area of work we must discuss is coordinating the activities of the different federal ministries and agencies. Contracting AIDS is a medical fact, but the disease usually has its roots in social causes. In this situation we can fight AIDS effectively only by ensuring well-coordinated cooperation between the different federal bodies.
I know that the State Council working group has proposed the creation of a special government commission on HIV. Let us also discuss this purely administrative aspect of the problem.
Another issue that we need to work on together is improving the legislation relating to the fight against AIDS. The law on HIV prevention that was passed in 1995 gives quite wide-ranging guarantees for the rights of people with AIDS, but it does not fully take into account the issue of responsibility for the deliberate spread of HIV.
In conclusion, we also need to look at information campaigns, which need to be not only wide-reaching and multi-layered but also, and most importantly, ongoing in nature. We need to persistently and consistently bring home the message to people about just how dangerous HIV is and how great the risk is today of catching the disease. It is especially important to carry out preventive work among the groups most vulnerable to AIDS, the risk groups.
A good number of such projects and programmes are already underway in Russia, but they are not united by a common strategy. The social procurement mechanism is used very seldom. Regional programmes for combating HIV infection practically do not provide for financing.
It is clear that there is not enough budget money to go around everyone, and this is why we need to get the business community, political parties and civil society organisations more actively involved in this information and prevention work. This practice is widely used in other countries.
These are just the broad outlines for our discussion. The State Council working group has drawn up detailed documents and concrete proposals on all the aspects of the fight against HIV infection.