A dramatic increase AIDS infections within Russia is being attributed, in part, to the introduction, in 1999, of liquid heroin from Afghanistan. In 1999, there were only 30,000 reported AIDS cases in the country. Through May 2004, there are now over 280,000 officially reported AIDS cases but U.N. and Russian experts believe the actual number is closer to a million cases, more than in the United States, yet the U.S. has double the population and has been dealing with AIDS since the 80s.
Future projections are frightening. In 2000, 9,000 people reportedly died of AIDS in Russia, a small number in a population of 145 million. By 2020, there are expected to be nearly 7 million deaths from AIDS if current rates of infections and deaths continue. Barely 2,000 Russians are on anti-viral medications and the Russian government spends only $1 million a year on HIV prevention. The situation is so severe that NGOs initially bypassed working with the government to inject $88 million directly into the hands of private foreign aid groups. Russia has since applied for $213 million from the Global AIDS fund.
When Russia opened up in the early 1990s, a flood of drugs came in from Central Asia. Young people first started experimenting with opium cooked down over stoves and smoked. But in 1999, liquid heroin (in vials) arrived from Afghanistan, switching addicts from inhaling to injection. Needle sharing became common and with it the initial proliferation of AIDS into the population. Today, up to 30 percent of HIV cases are being spread through sexual contact.
The AIDS epidemic comes on top of declining birth rates in Russian, with 173 deaths occurring every day compared to 100 births. Even without AIDS, Russias population is expected to decline to between 77 to 102 million by 2050. Russians drink more, smoke more and commit suicide more often per capita than any most any other country on the planet and have among the worlds highest rates of heart disease, hepatitis, syphilis, TB, and accidental death. Doug Mohney