A decade ago, grassroots activists began training each other to prevent a worsening AIDS epidemic in Russia. NGOs built partnerships as a new wave of advocates worked tirelessly to educate the population to prevent HIV. Most activism was generated within the nascent LGBT community, which focused heavily on outreach and prevention.
Today the activists have gone underground, new federal anti-gay “propaganda” laws promote homophobia, and the government crackdown on the LGBT community is fueling a worsening AIDS epidemic. According to the doctor in charge of Russia’s Federal AIDs Center, Vadim Pokhrovsky, “Our region is the only part of the world where the number of new cases keeps increasing and the treatment does not reduce mortality.” Information campaigns and training programs have stopped and the rate of infection increased last year by 10 percent. The number of Russians who died from AIDS in 2013 increased 15 percent.
In November 2013 two masked men with bats and guns entered the LaSky community center in St. Petersburg. The center was an oasis to provide HIV prevention services to the LGBT community. Two were injured, and one activist was shot in the eye, losing his sight. University professors active in the LGBT community have been told to stop all education or outreach concerning sexuality and health. Many have lost their jobs. Politicians once active on these issues have been ostracized.
The suppression of outreach and education means that Russians are no longer talking about HIV and AIDS. Most people at risk are not tested, are increasingly marginalized, and don't even know how HIV is spread.