Experts Say Russia Ill-Equipped to Fight HIV
Published: August 18, 2014 (Issue # 1824)
Olesya asks if her glittery hair clips are in place, if her hot pink lipstick needs reapplication.
It's all she can do to detract attention from the stump where her arm used to be, the price she paid for injecting drugs even after the site became gangrenous.
People walking past the pharmacy where volunteers chat with Olesya — an intravenous drug user with HIV — glare at the young woman, quickening their pace as they go. Others, many of them also young women, stop to accept the clean syringes, HIV tests and pregnancy tests being handed out as part of an outreach program to do the things that many specialists say authorities are not: acknowledge the fact that a full-blown HIV epidemic is becoming more and more of a reality each day.
Behind the pharmacy in northern Moscow is a field where some drug users go to shoot up. This one, in stark contrast with many others, is mostly free from used syringes.
"There is one other field that is just a carpet of used syringes," one of the volunteers says.
The same group running the outreach program, the Andrei Rylkov Foundation, a grassroots organization in Moscow that seeks to promote awareness of drug addiction and develop a humane drug policy, conducts periodic cleanup operations in public places to dispose of used syringes. These are often the same parks where families take their children to play, an alarming reminder of how close the epidemic is to spreading to non-drug users.
Olesya pulls up her pants to reveal another festering injection wound.
"Maybe you should go to the hospital," the volunteers tell her.
"Will they take me?"
"You're officially registered as a Moscow resident, right? Then they'll take you."
"Last time they refused because of my leg. They said gangrene is for drug addicts."
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