Earlier in 2004, I sat with Seryozha, Ivan, Sveta, and Misha* drinking tea. We were in the social room of one of St. Petersburg’s most important unknown achievements: an AIDS Prevention Center attached to a major infectious disease hospital. All four are members of a support group of people living with HIV/AIDS. That is, they are HIVinfected in Russia, and that means each will most likely soon die.
Seryozha may be most at risk among the group. He is slim and angular. His words come slowly, perhaps due to his thoughtfulness, but also due to the evident effort it takes for him to sit and talk. He was diagnosed in 2000. People living with HIV can live healthy lives if they receive treatment and care, primarily through an advanced course of anti-retroviral (ARV) medicines, which suppress the virus in their bodies. The drugs are expensive, although falling in price: ARV medications cost $10,000 per patient per year in the US, but can cost less than $1000 under special international pricing agreements.
Without ARV therapy, an HIV infected person usually has around five years as the virus grows in his or her body, deve loping into AIDS, and so weakening the immune system that he or she is vulnerable to the “opportunistic diseases” such as tuberculosis or pneumonia, which actually kill them. So time is closing in on Seryozha. […]