Faculty Spotlight: Judy Twigg Explains the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Russia

February 27, 2019

Political Science faculty help create real policy change in Washington, D.C. and across the globe.

On February 1, Judy Twigg, Ph.D., presented a forthcoming policy memo at a policy conference of the Project on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia, hosted by George Washington University and attended by more than one hundred U.S. government diplomats and analysts.

Judyth Twigg

Twigg’s remarks can be found in the accompanying video clip (41:00), where she opens with pointed criticism of the Russian government’s response to their nation’s HIV/AIDS epidemic as one of “willful incompetence and neglect.”

Although many Americans may not be aware of this epidemic, Twigg notes the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia passed the million case mark in 2015 and the Eastern European region is the only region in the world where HIV/AIDS has not declined over the last few years, largely due to the overwhelming growth of the epidemic in Russia.

To understand the alarming growth of the epidemic, Twigg calls attention to the way the Russian government frames those who are most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in their country – whether those with drug addictions, those who are sexual minorities, or those who engage in sex work – as being indicative of the perils of the encroachment of Western liberal values, and as being a threat to strong Russian cultural values and morals. Thus, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is treated as a criminal justice issue in Russia rather than a public health issue.

She optimistically notes that this is an “epidemic that is addressable through policy change,” but quickly adds that “right now it’s being used as a tool in the Kremlin’s propaganda war against the West, and as a result we’re seeing very serious public health and possibly societal consequences.”

To learn more about the recommended best-practices established by health care professionals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and to learn how and why Russian policy “pretty much does everything exactly backwards in terms of best-case international practice” for treating the epidemic, check out Dr. Twigg’s full remarks (11 minutes): 

Although Twigg notes many NGOs are no longer able to operate in Russia, there are organizations doing incredibly brave and important work, including the Russian LGBT Network, fighting persecution in Chechnya, and the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, fighting for the rights of people most at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS in Russia.