HIV incidence decreases in Tatarstan, but number of tests also falls

How are HIV and COVID-19 similar?

HIV infection and COVID-19 are similar, several specialists from the health sector of Tatarstan noted at a briefing dedicated to World AIDS Day on 1 December. Moreover, coronavirus and HIV infection sometimes go “hand in hand”, said Luiza Borisova, the head of the sanitary protection department of the Tatarstan Department of Rospotrebnadzor.

“The beginning of both pandemics was accompanied by a lack of interest in these diseases, everyone thought that this infection would never affect them. HIV appeared in the far West, Covid-19 appeared in China. As a result, we are seeing the spread of infection around the world. In many countries of the world with the largest number of patients, more patients with coronavirus infection are detected. Studies have shown that people with HIV are more susceptible to COVID-19. The number of cases of coronavirus infection among HIV-positive people is four times more than among HIV-negative people," Borisova said.

Deputy head of the Tatarstan ministry of healthcare Almir Abashev added that, as in the case of coronavirus, the most relevant methods in the fight against HIV infection are those that prevent its spread — in one case, these may be masks and other respiratory protection products, in the other — contraceptives. The similarity of infections was also mentioned by the chief physician of the Republican Centre For Prevention and Control of AIDS and Infectious Diseases, Niyaz Galiullin.

HIV in numbers

In Russia, the downward trend in the growth rate of new HIV infection continues. This year, 38,126 cases of the disease have been detected, which is by 20,5% less than in the same period of 2019, Borisova reported. However, she emphasises that in the “coronavirus” 2020 year, due to restrictive measures, 15,7% fewer people have been tested than a year ago.

In Tatarstan, 749 cases of the disease were registered in 10 months of 2020, which is by 14,7% lower than a year ago. In 14 districts of Tatarstan, an increase in the disease is registered, in five of them — more than one and a half times. These are Vysokogorsky, Laishevsky, Agryzsky, Sarmanovsky and Arsky districts. But in Apastovsky, Kaybitsky, Novosheshminsky, Tetyushsky, Tyulyachinsky districts, no new HIV cases have been registered in 2020.

In general, people with HIV infection live in every district of the republic. As of November 1, a total of 25,916 cases of HIV infection were detected, of which 7,184 people died, including 2,386 people due to HIV infection, Borisova said. Thus, there are just under 14,000 known HIV carriers in the republic.

Men predominate among HIV-infected people in the republic, 63,8% of the total number. Mainly, it is sexual transmission: 62,5% of all cases, and this share has increased by 2% over the year. Through intravenous injections of narcotic drugs, 30,5% were infected — against 38% a year earlier, Borisova said. Niyaz Galiullin added that 10 years ago, the proportion of men exceeded 70%, and mostly young people under 30 were infected — now the age of those infected has shifted to older ones.

Borisova noted that about 28% of the population is examined annually for preventive purposes in Tatarstan. During the pandemic, the number of people tested, as in Russia, decreased, but to a lesser extent, by 4%. However, in the key groups with the highest risk — for example, sex workers and drug users — the number of people examined, on the contrary, increased.

The pandemic, of course, has also affected the work of medical institutions that treat HIV-infected people. According to Galiullin, during this period, all forces were involved, including the resources of non-profit organisations, to deliver drugs and organise online consultations. In total, 22 volunteers were involved, who delivered medicines to 2,300 patients by private transport. “Over the entire period, medical care for HIV-infected people remained available," Galiullin stated.

Another important achievement of this year is that 129 children were born to HIV-infected mothers in Tatarstan since the beginning of the year, and there are no cases of HIV transmission from mother to child.

HIV-dissidents and “HIV-lost ones”

Niyaz Galiullin also said that during the pandemic, there was a rumour that HIV drugs allegedly help with coronavirus, which is why those who previously refused to be monitored came to medical institutions. Besides, the regional AIDS Centre has started working with so-called “lost”-people with confirmed HIV infection who do not want to be monitored or have forgotten about regular examinations and medication.

“This work consists in the fact that our employees, including 'equal consultants', people who themselves have HIV infection, go to the addresses, advise, motivate. They use the opportunities that medical staff do not have in their conversations. If a person then decides to be observed, then they are literally led to a medical facility by the hand, they help them quickly, without contact with other people, get the services that the AIDS Сentre provides," said Albert Zaripov, the chairperson of The Prevention and Initiative in the Field of Public Health and Prevention of Socially Negative Phenomena.

However, in Tatarstan, as elsewhere, there are cases not only of “lost” people, but also of HIV dissidence, denial of the very existence of HIV infection.

“There are children to whom we prescribe therapy, and parents or guardians do not understand the importance and do not provide timely examination and treatment. In this case, we have to contact the commissioner for children's rights and other organisations. There are cases among adults when they find some sites and read that there is no HIV infection, that this is fiction. They only come to us when these sites are closed and they find out that the site's creator was an HIV dissident and he died. And a person loses many years without starting timely treatment. HIV does exist, they are infected with it," Galiullin said.

Both Galiullin and deputy head of Tatartsan ministry of healthcare Almir Abashev called difficult the number of such people in the republic, they just noted that very few of them.

By Alexander Artemyev