Health Ministry seeks restrictions on Aids denial in Russia

The Russian Health Ministry has prepared a bill introducing fines for any public promotion of HIV/Aids denial and the blocking of websites that spread such reports.

The text of the draft was published on the special website for public discussion of new legislative initiatives on Monday. Explanations attached with the document read that it was developed as part of the state program of combating Aids that was approved by the government in April last year. The explanatory note also reads that the general public, especially the younger generation, could be misled into abandoning all measures aimed at the prevention and treatment of Aids, and could even come to the false conclusion that there is no such thing as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

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To counter these unwanted developments, the Health Ministry has proposed the introduction of amendments to several laws to make it illegal to publicly spread any information that persuade people not to undergo HIV tests, diagnosis and prevention. This includes any public events and also propaganda on telecom networks, including the internet and mobile phones.

Violators of the ban will face fines between 2,000 and 3,000 rubles for ordinary citizens ($32- 48), 5,000-10,000 for officials ($80-161), and 20,000 and 50,000 rubles for businesses ($323-806). In addition, websites that contain information promoting HIV/Aids denial and refuse to delete it will face blocks on all Russian territory.

The authors of the draft noted in explanations that modern anti-retrovirus drugs, when applied properly, allow to seriously increase the life expectancy for HIV-infected patients and also contribute to prevention of the spread of the infection.

An activist of the “Patients Control” NGO, Yulia Vereshagina, said in comments with Kommersant daily that over the past four years her group has registered 84 cases in which HIV-positive patients died after refusing to accept treatment. Seventeen of the victims were children.

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© Varvara Gert'e

In July last year, the deputy head of the State Duma Committee for Women, Family and Children, MP Oksana Pushkina (United Russia), said in press comments that she and her colleagues planned to develop and draft a bill that would make it obligatory for parents to send their children for treatment if the latter are diagnosed with HIV.

In mid-2017, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said that the number of newly-registered cases of HIV in Russia was under 87,000 in 2016 – 15 percent down from 100,000 in 2015. The overall number of HIV-positive people is currently about 860,000, according to the Health Ministry.

However, activists representing private foundations for fighting Aids and helping HIV-infected people see the problem as more serious. They estimate the overall number of HIV-positive patients in Russia as between 1.5 and 2 million. The Health Ministry blames the difference on different methods of counting and insists that the smaller figure is correct.

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