May 01, 1997

A Plague Ignored

As of March 1997, there were 3,327 officially  reported cases of HIV-infection in Russia, but many specialists estimate that the actual number of infections is closer to 10,000. These numbers are compounded by the fact that most health experts, including the Russian Ministry of Health, are predicting between 800,000-1 million HIV-infected Russians by the year 2000. 

Gennady Roshchupkin was 19 years old when he found out he was HIV+. In 1988, the Moscow student paid a visit to his local polyclinic, complaining he was feeling poorly and suffering from an undefined, general exhaustion. In response, the clinic’s doctors subjected him to a battery of tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). One of these was a test for the HIV antibody. Like all Soviet citizens at the time, Gena was tested without his consent or knowledge.

It is more than likely that, even if the clinic had bothered to ask for Gena’s permission, he wouldn’t have given it, as all he knew of the disease was government-sponsored propaganda  about Russi-ans’ political and moral immunity. As described by James Riordan, in his study, Sex and Russian Society, the Soviets originally treated HIV/AIDS as “a Western problem, with overtones of retribution for bourgeois depravity, and accusations against the CIA for unleashing the virus through an experiment gone wrong.”

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