HIV-Positive Prison Inmates In Russia Have Limited Access To Antiretroviral Treatment

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Prison inmates living withHIV/AIDS in Russiaoften lack access to proper antiretroviral treatment and medical care, someadvocates said recently, the MoscowTimesreports. Limited education among inmates about the disease, a shortage ofdoctors and bureaucratic barriers in obtaining medical release in the countryare contributing to the problem, the Times reports. According toAlexander Kononets, head of the Federal Prison Service's health department,there are 42,000 inmates living with HIV/AIDS in Russian prisons and jails.Written consent is required for an HIV-positive inmate to receive treatmentwhile incarcerated, according to the Times.

Federal Prison Service spokesperson Valery Zaitsev said inmates are screenedfor HIV/AIDS when they enter a detention facility and usually are screenedagain when they are transferred to prison. The tests usually are the first timethe inmates are tested for the virus, Zaitsev said, adding that those who testHIV-positive subsequently "receive antiretroviral drugs and otherappropriate treatment." However, Yelena Panasenko, who coordinates supportgroups for prisoners with HIV/AIDS in the country's Saratov region, said additional efforts areneeded to help the inmates maintain treatment. "Prison doctors can offertreatment, but they will not persuade each inmate to undergo it,"Panasenko said.


Tatyana Bakulina -- head of IMENA, a St. Petersburg-based nongovernmentalorganization that operates support programs for HIV-positive inmates -- addedthat the situation for inmates living with HIV/AIDS is exacerbated by highrates of tuberculosis and hepatitis C coinfection. Kononets said that there are43,000 inmates with TB in Russia."Sometimes a prisoner will come down with a severe fever for three days,and nobody will examine him or give him any medicine," Bakulina said.

Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal AIDS Center,said that the situation concerning medical treatment for inmates "waspretty poor last year, but it is already getting better." According toPokrovsky, inmates now receive treatment under a federal program instead ofthrough regional governments. Experts also said that difficulties releasedprisoners face reintegrating into society can complicate treatment. About230,000 convicts are released annually -- 90% of whom suffer from variousdiseases -- Kononets told the Public Chamber in October 2007.

Court Case

The Supreme Court onTuesday rejected a request by Vasily Aleksanyan, a former executive of Russia'sYukos Oil Company, to be released from prison so he could be treated forHIV/AIDS, the Times reports. Aleksanyan, who is facing embezzlementand tax evasion charges, claims that he was intentionally denied treatmentwhile in jail as punishment for not testifying against his bosses. Russian lawsays that any person diagnosed with serious illness should not be kept inpretrial detention. Prosecutors said that Aleksanyan refused treatment while injail; however, his lawyer, Yelena Lvova, says Aleksanyan gave written consentfor therapy in July 2007. Aleksanyan never received treatment and has not had amedical examination since Dec. 30, 2007, Lvova said. Aleksanyan was diagnosedwith HIV a few months after his detention in April 2006 and "could die anyday," another lawyer said (Osadchuk, Moscow Times, 1/24).

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