While other countries in Europe are seeing a stabilization or fall in their HIV diagnosis, the one country that is significantly bucking the trend is Russia.
The country (population 144million) recorded 98,177 new diagnoses of HIV in 2015. This is a 15% increase on its 2014 figures.
According to aidsmap, the increase in Russia was a major factor in the Europe-wide figure for new diagnoses increasing by 8% – at a time when countries such as France and Spain saw a dip in their figures.
Russia now accounts for 64% of all HIV cases in Europe, up from 60% on previous aidsmap figures. Russia has revealed that more than a million of its citizens have HIV, or 0.8% of its adult population.
Some estimates place the figure higher, at around 1.5 million.
Drug use is widely responsible for the HIV epidemic in Russia. In 2014, the Russian Federal AIDS Center said that intravenous drug use accounted for 58% of HIV transmissions.
However, despite this, the Russian government has been widely criticized for its lack of effective policy on tackling HIV. Unlike many other European countries, it does not tend to try to switch injecting drug users to oral medication such as methadone. It also gives barely any funding to needle exchange programs.
After drug users, heterosexual sex workers and their clients make up many of the other HIV infections in Russia, with only around 1.5% due to men who have sex with men.
By contrast, in the UK, 6,095 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2015 (a slight fall from 2014), of which 54% were gay and bisexual men.
‘Gay and bisexual men are less likely to be open about their sexuality’
Outside Russia, aidsmap reports an increase in the number of gay and bisexual men becoming infected with HIV in Eastern Europe: 4% in 2015. This represents a ten-fold increase from ten years ago.
However, because homophobic attitudes persist in many of these countries, aidsmap concludes, ‘These increases are from a very low base, though, and may just represent that more men testing HIV-positive are prepared to admit they caught HIV from other men.’
Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM told GSN: ‘The high number of cases of HIV in Russia is driven by stigma and abetted by homophobia.
‘Fewer than half of those who are diagnosed do not have access to the drugs that treat HIV and also reduce the risk of onward transmission. State and Church believe that traditional social values should be the bedrock of prevention and so very little is spent on HIV prevention campaigning.
‘The number of HIV cases that are ascribed to gay sex is startlingly low, although this is probably as a result of under-reporting. The homophobic environment that prevails in Russia means that gay and bisexual men are less likely to be open about their sexuality.’
Turkey and Ireland report significant increase
Away from Eastern Europe, figures also reveal a significant rise in HIV in Turkey. The country reports 2,956 new cases in 2015 – a massive 62% increase from 2014. However, given that Turkey’s population is comparable to the UK (75 million), that figure represents a statistically small proportion of the population as a whole.
Ireland also saw a 47% increase in HIV from 2014 to 2015, and these were mostly in gay men.
France reports dramatic fall
Spain and Italy both reported a fall in the number of people becoming infected with HIV.
The most significant fall is in France. It reported a 30% drop in HIV diagnosis, and a 40% drop in gay men being diagnosed. In total, the number of gay men diagnosed in France was around a third of the number in the UK, despite there again be a comparable population.
In December 2015, France became the first country outside the US to make PrEP widely available for those who need it. Sexual health campaigners are be optimistic that the country’s 2016 figures may show a further reduction in HIV diagnoses.