By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Such material 'propagandize the use of drugs, information about distribution and purchasing of drugs and inciting the use of drugs'
The Andrey Rylkov Foundation, or ARF, a Russian organization dedicated to providing health information to intravenous drug users has faced opposition from their government. In an attempt to spread the word about the dangers of HIV/AID transmission through the used of dirty needles, the Federal Drug Control Service of the Moscow Department shut down the organization's Web site earlier this month. The reason? The information provided by the Web site, according to officials, assist in the "placement of materials that propagandize the use of drugs, information about distribution and purchasing of drugs and inciting the use of drugs."
LOS ANGELES, Ca (Catholic Online) - Critics say this is "draconian silencing" of public health advocates. Stemming the flow of vitally important medical information, they say worsens an already perilous health situation in the country.
The crackdown is "over methadone, plain and simple," Anya Sarang, president of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation. She says that ARF advocates harm reduction strategies and have been a vocal critic of the Russian government's ban on methadone.
The Web site (www.rylkov-fond.org) often carried extensive international and local research proving that methadone reduces the risk of HIV among users of heroin and other opiates, as well as helps people stay on AIDS and TB treatments.
The World Health Organization says that methadone is an essential substance for treating heroin dependence and preventing HIV transmission by reducing the practice of injecting. The Russian government's "zero tolerance" approach to illicit drugs has stalled the use of methadone across the country.
Russia has one of the largest populations of injecting drug abusers in the world. The nation also has one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics. It stands to reason that the dissemination of such information is necessary to keep the spread of the virus under control.
Some experts estimate that as many as 1.65 million people could be HIV-positive by 2015 if current trends persist untended.
An estimated 980,000 people are living with HIV in Russia; in some regions as many as 80 percent of those with HIV contracted the virus through contaminated needles.
"For years, human rights advocates like ARF have argued that Russia's colossal failure to provide vital services to (drug users) is a breach of its obligations under international law to respect, protect and fulfill the right to health," Eka Iakobishvili, human rights analyst at the London based Harm Reduction International says.
"The government's latest crackdown against public health activists has now turned the matter into a (violation of our) freedom of expression as well," she said.
The fact that the United Nations listed universal treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS as one of its most urgent millennium development goals, human rights and health advocates contend that Russia's failure to allow information or services helpful to drug users breaches international human rights and public health laws.
"We are very concerned about the closure of the website, which is one of very few Russian language websites with accurate information about drug treatment, particularly drug treatment using methadone," Diederik Lohman, a senior researcher from the health and human rights division at Human Rights Watch says.