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Solidarity with Russian Activists for World AIDS Day

Photo Credit: Vera Boykewich

In honor of World AIDS Day on December 1, 2011, Harm Reduction Coalition and VOCAL-NY (with the support of our friends at OSI) took part in a global action in solidarity with people who use drugs (PWUDs) and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWAs) in Russia. The protests, which took place in 12 countries, were called for by INPUD – The International Network of People who Use Drugs – took the struggle to Russian embassies to demand the Russian government change their brutal polices against PWUDs and PLWAs.

In New York, activists marched to the Russian Consulate chanting, “Shame on Russia, Shame on Russia, Drug Treatment NOW!” and “What do we want? Money for AIDS! When do we want it? NOW!” Fliers were distributed to the many people waiting in line for visas. Protestors carried posters and banners and presented the embassy with a box of syringes to symbolize their failure to deliver these essential tools to their citizens. Flowers and white slippers were also left to symbolize the hundreds of thousands of Russian who have died as a result of the Russian government’s failure to act.

Photo Credit: Vera Boykewich

Injecting drugs with contaminated equipment is driving Russia’s HIV epidemic, now the fastest growing in the world and it is reflected in the numbers; as many as 80% of new infections are occurring amongst people who inject drugs (PWID), in a total HIV positive population of approx 1.3million. With this in mind, recent projections forecast an additional 5 million people could become infected with HIV in the near future, unless Russia drastically transforms the way it is dealing with its HIV pandemic.

Russia’s government has failed to provide a public health response to the epidemic, choosing instead to impose brutal punishment and criminal penalties on people who use drugs. They deny drug users access to effective drug treatment interventions such as methadone and buprenorphine and there is no access to sterile injection equipment to prevent ongoing transmission of HIV and hepatitis C. Overdose is also epidemic with over 30,000 people dying each year.

Without options to make changes to their drug use, people who use drugs in Russia are turning to cheaper, very dangerous alternatives to heroin – a drug called Krokodil is gaining popularity. Krokodil is made from codeine-based headache medicine combined with a slew of dangerous chemicals; it literally eats away at the skin, making it dry, cracked, scaly and hard…hence the name.

It is time for Russia to treat PWUDs and PLWAs with human dignity and respect! Shame Russia Shame! Drug Treatment and AIDS medicines NOW!

For more information on the situation in Russia and the worldwide protests, visit the Russian Embassy Protest Blog.  Also, check out our fact sheet: Methadone in Russia.

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