Finns fear HIV from Russia
Health authorities in South Karelia are stepping up the fight against HIV by offering more opportunities to be tested anonymously for the virus. The move is prompted by concern over the spread of HIV in Russia, and by fears of cross-border infection.
Executive director Irma Pahlman of the Finnish AIDS Council notes that HIV is spreading faster in Russia than it is in the south of Africa. She also notes that the council is concerned of a lack of knowledge of HIV. She says that an entire generation has reached the age of sexual activity at a time when HIV is seen as one sexually transmitted disease among many, and no longer inspires the tremendous fear that it used to.
Traditional high-risk groups in Russia include Finns who pay for commercial sex in Russia. There is also concern that Finnish intravenous drug users who inject during visits to Russia might catch the virus.
So far this year 104 new infections with HIV have been reported in Finland. About half of them, 56, were in the Helsinki and Uusimaa area. Only four have been reported in South Karelia, but in 2010, for instance, there were nine. "The number is large in relation to the population base of 130,000", says Pekka Suomalainen, head physician of infectious diseases at the South Karelia Central Hospital to Helsingin Sanomat.
Officials in South Karelia hope that information of the availability of anonymous quick tests will reach the high-risk groups usually not reached by health education. "Typically this involves a middle-aged man who drinks heavily, and who has a fairly low level of education", Pekka Suomalainen says. He also notes that Russia is not the only source of HIV infections in the region – people get them in Finland and during travel to Asia, for instance.