The important thing today is to contain the spread of the AIDS epidemic and attract substantial financial resources for the prevention and treatment for the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, Vadim Pokrovsky, head of Russia's federal research center for HIV/AIDS, said to this RIA correspondent in an interview. "We know what to do and how to do it, but we so far lack funds to translate this into reality," he said. Pokrovsky is one of the leading Russian experts to have taken part in the 15th International Conference on HIV/AIDS, held in the Thai capital, Bangkok, July 11 through 16.
Russia has 285,000 officially registered HIV carriers, and [Russian] society needs to be aware of how important it is to stop the virus from spreading further, Pokrovsky said. The epidemic will have serious implications for Russia's economy, he warned. As a rule, HIV-infected people have no motivation to improve their professional qualifications; they don't care much about career prospects, and hold no money in banks. According to our interviewee's stark forecast, about a million Russians may die of AIDS by the year 2020.
The Moscow Institute of Immunology has recently reported the invention of a vaccine against HIV. Specialists have approved the new vaccine, and it will now be subjected to clinical tests, Pokrovsky said. It is no easy task finding volunteers willing to take part in such tests, he remarked. Drugs may be efficient only if administered in a certain, sometimes quite large, dose, which puts at risk the health of those who agree to take them. It may take up to 25 years for the vaccine to become mass-produced. Even given the ever increasing pace of scientific and technological advances, the best-case scenario is ten years, our interviewee said.
As Pokrovsky sees it, one of the key priorities in the fight against HIV/AIDS is teaching the public and the medical personnel to behave responsibly.
On the positive side, Russia has made some progress in HIV prevention and treatment over the part few years, Pokrovsky said. Specifically, efficient therapies have now been developed, ones that can substantially prolong the life of HIV carriers. But such therapies remain beyond reach for many in Russia, with the average price at $10,000 for a year-long course of treatment. It is therefore highly important to make anti-retroviral drugs more affordable to HIV patients in this country. One way of doing this is to lower customs duties, which account for 23 percent of the price at which anti-retroviral drugs are offered to local customers.
Even some simple measures could halve the price of anti-retroviral drugs, Pokrovsky claimed. And by buying generic drugs from developing countries such as India or launching domestic production, Russia will be able to reduce the price to one-tenth of what it is now, the expert said. This is something Brazil has done, he added.
Such problems are for government officials, not doctors, to address, Pokrovsky remarked. He called on the Economic Development and Trade Ministry and customs agencies to do their share of work to fight the epidemic.