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million people infected with HIV


new cases are each year


of sex workers in Moscow with at least one sexually transmitted infection

The need for a humanitarian mission in Russia

These alarming figures highlight the need for a humanitarian mission in Russia, particularly one focussing on medical aid for certain target groups.


The hell of commercial sex in Russia: a cornerstone of our humanitarian work in Russia

Russia is facing a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. The number of officially registered cases exceeds 1.4 million and this figure increases by about 10% each year. The epidemic particularly affects sex workers (SWs) who are at risk of contracting or transmitting HIV and other STIs.


At-risk practices and vulnerability

This increased risk is partly due to the multiplicity of sexual partners and irregular condom use. The criminalisation of sex work in the country is also a risk factor. People offering commercial sex hide in remote places, but by isolating themselves they become more vulnerable.

SWs face barriers to accessing healthcare, particularly administrative barriers but also barriers related to stigma and discrimination.

Although sex workers are among the most at-risk populations, they have the least access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment services.

This inequality of access to healthcare needs to be addressed by providing medical aid to Russia.


Humanitarian aid for sex workers is more essential than ever in Russia

2020 was marked by the health and social crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. New needs have arisen among SWs, new solidarities have emerged, and new working methods have been put in place.

Because sex work is not recognised, sex workers have not been able to benefit from the emergency economic and social measures put in place by the state. Quarantine measures have also had negative consequences, as the livelihoods of the SWs depend largely on their – and their clients’ – ability to travel.

SWs took the full brunt of the crisis, as the decline in the number of clients also reduced their negotiating power, exposing them to at-risk practices. SWs also faced greater barriers to accessing prevention materials, HIV testing and healthcare, including antiviral treatment. Single mothers, transgender people and migrants were particularly vulnerable during this period. Humanitarian aid is therefore crucial for the most vulnerable in Russia.

These marginalised populations should be supported as part of a humanitarian mission to Russia, aiming at access to healthcare and awareness raising.

Face à l’extrême précarité dans laquelle se retrouvent des TdS, Médecins du Monde a fourni une aide individuelle d’urgence dans le cadre de son action humanitaire en Russie © Reuters
Face à l’extrême précarité dans laquelle se retrouvent des TdS, Médecins du Monde a fourni une aide individuelle d’urgence dans le cadre de son action humanitaire en Russie © Reuters

Our humanitarian work in Russia

From the beginning of the humanitarian crisis in Russia, the objective of Médecins du Monde and its partners Shagui (in Moscow), Silver Rose (in St Petersburg) and Zerkalo (in Perm) has been to maintain essential HIV and STI prevention services and support for access to treatment. The other objective? To reduce the marginalisation of SWs.

Despite the health crisis, MdM and its partners have maintained their activities and implemented prevention and awareness-raising activities around COVID-19.


Jointly creating preventive approaches with SWs: a key part of our medical work in Russia

Protective equipment – such as gloves and masks – were distributed to our partners, while prevention messages and information on protective measures were incorporated into our activities (a flyer was designed with the SWs and published on their social networks).

Individual emergency assistance, distribution of materials, psychosocial and legal support.

Activities and the routes participants take have been adapted to minimise physical contact, both at the reception centre and in the field. Outreach sessions have been stepped up to support those who cannot travel. Support for starting ARVinfo-icon treatment after a positive HIV test has been maintained.

New activities have also been implemented as part of our humanitarian mission to Russia. Faced with the extremely vulnerable situations in which some of the SWs found themselves, Médecins du Monde provided individual emergency aid to nearly 180 people, offering food aid and accommodation for nine of them (including three with young children).

Other services, such as the distribution of condoms, lubricants, and personal protective equipment, were offered with the support of community liaison officers. SWs have also been able to receive ARVinfo-icon treatment provided at home.

MdM and its partners have also developed online psychosocial and legal support and have organised webinars which have helped to reach more people and widen the geographic impact of the project.

This period thus confirmed the resilience of the NGOs and the SW community. While AIDS Centres were working with limited capacity, reducing the number of tests, postponing consultations and the provision of ARVinfo-icon treatment, community-based organisations took over, and continued to provide prevention and support services. The humanitarian work of MdM and its partners in Russia was cited as an example by the UNAIDS regional office. Excellent work!

Conducting a survey on HIV prevalence in Russia

In April 2019, Médecins du Monde, Shagi and Russia’s Central Research Institute of Epidemiology (CRIE) published a survey evaluating the prevalence of HIV and five other STIs among sex workers in Moscow.

This study also helped to identify factors linked to HIV/STIs and to assess respondents’ knowledge of HIV, STIs and access to prevention and treatment.

> Read the survey


In 2020

MdM’s humanitarian work in Russia has included:

  • 2,789 sex workers supported in Moscow, with over 4,600 contacts being made, while over 2,000 contacts were recorded in Perm;
  • 312 outreach sessions took place in Moscow and 48 in Perm;
  • Three seminars were organised on rights, health and sexual and reproductive health education, as well as one on leadership training and one on training in preventing violence. One visit took place to discuss practices between projects;
  • More than 20 sex workers regularly work on the projects and have started a community support group.


our institutional support

Budget of Médecins du Monde’s humanitarian mission in Russia: €345,000
L'Organisation mondiale de la santé soutient Médecins du Monde

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