Feature story

Russian blogger’s film raising awareness of HIV

20 February 2020

A new film about HIV in the Russian Federation by YouTuber and journalist Yuri Dud is stirring people’s interest about the epidemic in the country.

Since its release on 11 February, the video has been viewed by more than 14 million people, and the number of online searches about HIV and HIV testing has skyrocketed. According to Google Trends, the number of searches on where to buy an HIV test has increased by 4000% since the launch of the video—the highest level of interest in HIV and HIV testing in the past five years.

In the film, published on his YouTube channel, Mr Dud talks to people living with HIV, activists, experts and journalists. Through his interviews, the film voices some of the taboos surrounding HIV in Russian society, including condom use, and looks into the drug use epidemic in the country, the services available for people who use drugs and the lack of sex education, among other things.

It is clear in the film that younger people still lack basic information about HIV—things like the difference between HIV and AIDS, the effectiveness of treatment or even how the virus is transmitted are still mysteries for many in the country. “You can touch people living with HIV, exchange clothes, swim in the same pool, drink from the same mug, cuddle, kiss. It's stupid to be squeamish about people living with HIV. It is much better to be squeamish about unprotected sex and drugs. These are still the two main modes of HIV transmission,” said Mr Dud.

The popularity of the film has prompted government officials to take a closer look at the HIV epidemic and response.

“Yuri Dud’s film about HIV is undoubtedly useful. It provides a lot of important information and motivates people to get tested for HIV,” said Oleg Salagai, Deputy Health Minister, in his Telegram channel. Mr Salagai emphasized how the film draws attention to the issue of the stigma endured by people living with HIV. “HIV is not a death sentence anymore. It is very important that people living with HIV have access to HIV treatment to live a healthy and fulfilling life,” he wrote.

Mr Salagai was not the only government official reacting to the video.

Alexei Kudrin, the Head of the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation, promised to carry out a review of the effectiveness of HIV prevention and care programmes in the country. “This year, the Accounts Chamber will analyse the effectiveness of government resources allocated to people living with HIV in the Russian Federation,” he said.

And the first Deputy Head of the State Duma Health Committee, Fedot Tumusov, invited members of parliament to watch the film and discuss to the HIV situation in the Russian Federation. He is also planning a round-table meeting in the State Duma to explore ways to improve access to HIV prevention and treatment.

“The public response to Mr Dud’s film is incredible. However, even such a successful action is not enough. We need consistent and long-term activities to raise HIV awareness coupled with programmatic actions to ensure access to HIV testing and treatment for all,” said Alexander Goliusov, Director, a.i., of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Eastern Europe and central Asia, of which the Russian Federation is a part, has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world. Most new HIV infections in the Russian Federation are among key populations, including people who inject drugs, despite the well-documented power of harm reduction programmes, where available, to reduce new HIV infections—insufficient access to sterile injecting equipment and the unavailability of opioid substitution therapy are stymying efforts in the country to prevent HIV infections among people who inject drugs.