Moscow (AFP) - Waiting with his rucksack full of clean syringes by a pharmacy in the Moscow suburbs, Maxim Malyshev is fighting a lonely battle on the frontline of Russia's spiralling AIDS epidemic.

Malyshev, along with about a dozen other volunteers from the Andrei Rylkov Foundation, run the only outreach programme for drug users in the country's sprawling capital -- handing out fresh needles, condoms and advice to help combat the spread of diseases.

"We go out into the streets, where drug takers hang out, where they pass by, where they buy and we give them clean syringes so that they don't get infected," Malyshev, himself a former user, tells AFP.

Accepted internationally as a basic tool in combatting the spread of HIV, in Russia -- which has grown more conservative under President Vladimir Putin -- initiatives like Malyshev's receive no backing from the state.

"The authorities don't support our activities. All their efforts go on attempted cures and telling people not to take drugs," Malyshev says.

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