HIV in the Russian army

No sooner do I finish posting the last entry (HIV abuses in Russia’s Medical System) than I come across this Moscow Times article about Russian Army concerns about the high level of draftees that are being rejected for military service on the grounds of HIV.

When Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov sounded the alarm in March about HIV/AIDS as an issue of national security, his comments made waves in the press as a landmark public recognition of the scale of the epidemic. His statement followed a startling announcement by one of the military’s top medical officers, Major General Valery Kulikov, that the number of draftees rejected because of HIV infection had skyrocketed by 27 times over the past five years.

"In Western Europe and North America, 70-odd percent of the total prevalence of HIV/AIDS is among people 30 and over," [US demographer Murray] Feshbach said in a recent telephone interview. "In Russia, 83 percent are 15- to 29-year-olds. That’s the core group of potential conscriptees. In 10 to 11 years, when they die, they’ll be at the prime military age, prime working age, prime family formation age."

Kulikov said last fall that 9,000 potential draftees had been turned away because they tested positive for the virus over the past five years. He warned that this was "only the tip of the iceberg," since draftees are not systematically screened for HIV.

Even if the screening process isn’t yet systematic, it’s certainly good news for Russia that it is becoming more and more comprehensive.  I’d argue that increased screening of military draftees could actually do a great service to the country as a whole, as the army will test people who would otherwise never even consider taking the test, and allows them to know for certain of their current HIV status. 

Unfortunately in future years the military will screen a smaller and smaller percentage of the absolute Russian population, as conscription is gradually abolished.  The Russian government must ensure that funding which is currently earmarked for HIV tests of potential conscripts is diverted into the medical system, to allow for the promotion of greater public awareness of HIV, in an attempt to persuade people to voluntarily get themselves tested (or, even better, reduce the amount of risky behaviour in which they engage).

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