Fighting an Epidemic in Russia from 3,000 Miles Away

Russia is home to the world’s fastest-growing HIV epidemic. Driven by injection drug use, it is now becoming generalized. If you use injection drugs in Russia, you likely have HIV, hepatitis C, and more often than not, tuberculosis.

Although the Russian constitution grants the right to free access to health services in government facilities, it does not provide effective care to those who have these multiple infections. And it bans opioid substitution therapy—the most effective opiate addiction treatment.

In many ways, the story of Max, who you meet in this video, is typical of the hundreds of thousands of Russians who use drugs. As an intravenous drug user, he contracted HIV and hepatitis C.

But when Max was denied testing and treatment for his hepatitis C, he did something no Russian who uses drugs had done before—Max turned to the justice system.

Faced with the daunting task of taking on his region’s health system in court, Max used the Internet for help. He contacted the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Through online sessions with a lawyer who was more than 3,000 miles away, Max crafted his legal arguments and strategy.

Representing himself, Max sued the regional hospital in Tver that denied him testing, and won his case on appeal. The court ordered testing and treatment for him.

Max’s victory inspired him to help others confront the injustices they experience in health services. He co-founded a project at the Andrey Rylkov Foundation in which street outreach workers provide legal consultations for people who use drugs alongside offerings of clean needles and food.

In his outreach work, Max relies on the website Hand-Help.ru—a unique online resource that offers advice about ever-changing Russian drug laws to drug users, their friends, and their families. The site wants to correct a widespread lack of understanding of drug laws common not only among people who use drugs and the general population, but also law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges.

In a vast country like Russia, where accessing a lawyer is not always practical or possible, Hand-help is only a click away, offering accurate and up-to-date advice and information.

Armed with an innovative resource like Hand-help, and a conviction that Russians who use drugs should be treated as people worthy of respect, Max wants others to recognize their power.

“The most important thing,” Max says, “is strength in your own life—to fight for help, to stand up for something.”

3 Comments

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Great Story. We need more people to be like Max and stand up for their rights, advocate for human rights at all times!

Respecting human rights an harm reduction principles is the way forward in combating HIV&AIDS,all the governments should respect this any be ashamed of denie the drug users they constitutional an human rights,

Respect to the outreach workers whom are doing their best to see that drug users access this services an pushing for their rights.

Sad and weird (and inevitable?!) how free healthcare became suddenly hardly accessible in Russia after decades of state-control of the population; the welfare system breaking down post 1989, similarly to other soviet/communist states (some of which are now in the EU and some hope flickers for them, providing free health care at point of use mainly via the emergency services - but another discussion!). This video really impressed me,and hats down to all of you who do the work for the society you live in that ought to be funded by the state or a central body. Drug users have a difficult time all over the world, but I wish that all Europeans, therefore Russians as well, would give more thought towards, and not just outright judgement, regarding people who are in the situation of being 'addicted to a substance (which can be any drug,including alcohol, tobacco etc.)'.

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