By Sarah Wheaton / Politco
Since 2009, the Andrey Rylkov Foundation has been on the streets of Moscow, offering clean syringes so people can inject addictive drugs without the added risk of HIV. The Russian government isn’t a fan of this type of initiative, known as harm reduction — even though it’s recommended by the World Health Organization. Moscow prefers to take a harder line on drug use and prevent HIV by pushing traditional moral values.
That approach isn’t working. Initially fueled by injection drug use, lately the epidemic has been spreading beyond drug users to the general population, affecting well more than one in 100 Russians. (Diagnoses dropped in 2020, but according to the federal HIV monitoring center, that’s likely because testing decreased during the pandemic.) Pre-COVID, cases were on the rise in Russia.
So the Andrey Rylkov Foundation’s work isn’t just about distributing needles and the opiate overdose treatment Naloxone. They’re campaigning against Russia’s war on drugs — a mission that’s gotten much more difficult since they were forced to register under Russia’s “foreign agent” rules in 2016, which requires political organizations that receive assistance from abroad to jump through a bunch of extra hoops.