(Reuters) – A hard-hitting YouTube documentary about Russia’s HIV epidemic, by a popular blogger, has attracted more than 13 million views in a week, and even drawn praise from the Kremlin.
Some pharmacists have also reported a rush to snap up express HIV tests, after the film, which is just under two hours long, was released on February 11.
There are over a million people in Russia infected with HIV, and the epidemic has been growing among the general population, according to health officials.
But critics have condemned the authorities for adopting what they say are overly conservative social policies that hamper HIV prevention, and for not providing the country’s HIV patients with proper care.
Methadone, which research has shown helps prevent injecting drug-users passing on HIV, is banned in Russia for example.
Viewed 13.4 million times, the new documentary, by blogger Yuri Dud, details the personal histories of people with HIV, the discrimination they face, and informs viewers how not to contract the virus.
Dud, known for his documentaries about controversial issues in Russian society, takes a rapid HIV test on camera himself, using an oral swab, an act which anecdotal evidence shows appears to have been copied by many viewers.
Demand for rapid HIV tests has significantly increased since the film’s release, Anton Buzdalin, who heads a popular online pharmacy, told the Vedomosti daily. He said the tests had sold out in within a few hours of the documentary being released.
“With one video, Dud gave the country and its people more information [than] many lawmakers and politicians”, YouTube user, Maxim Ananyev, wrote in the comments under the documentary.
The film has also drawn official reaction, including a pledge by the head of the country’s Audit Chamber, to review the effectiveness of medical care given to HIV patients.
Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister, who heads the Audit Chamber, wrote on Twitter that Dud had made a much-needed film, and that HIV represented a much greater threat to Russia than the coronavirus epidemic in neighbouring China.
The Kremlin has also tuned in.
“I watched it, it was good,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said this week.
“The main thing is that the relevant (official) bodies are acquainted with it”.
-Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, additional reporting by Alexander Marrow