Russia’s Fight against HIV/AIDS: Muskie Alumna Ignites New Mentality
Russia has one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world: some experts project that 10% of the population could be infected by 2020. Many ideas and trends that have been effective in the West are neither known nor practiced in Russia, and healthcare workers are eager to learn different methods. Violetta Khabibulina, a 2002 Muskie alumna, is working to provide practitioners with new approaches to combating the spread of HIV/AIDS in Russia.
Through IREX’s Muskie Mentor/Advisor Exchange (MAX) program, which is part of the Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program and implemented throughout Eurasia, Khabibulina has helped bridge practices between the US and Russia. Khabibulina brought her advisor, Dr. Frank Feeley of the Boston University School of Public Health, to St. Petersburg and Kazan to hold a series of seminars on HIV/AIDS for doctors, NGO workers and medical school faculty. These seminars addressed topics such as non-clinical treatment of HIV/AIDS, follow-up care and the cost of medical care for HIV-positive patients with few resources.
Seminar participants confirmed the ideas Dr. Feeley presented addressed some of the real challenges they experience. Tatiana, a doctor from St. Petersburg with over 20 years of experience, said, “It was exactly what I had in my practice. When a patient left and returned at the last stage of AIDS… I wish I had such services and support to cope with the problem of non-adherence at that time.” Health professionals who attended the seminars will work more closely with NGOs providing social services to provide more quality care to their patients.
Connections between Russian institutions and Boston University have strengthened because of the MAX program. Dr. Feeley is in contact with hospitals and universities in Russia after returning to the United States and hopes to start collaborative projects and continue working with Khabibulina. “Violetta is willing to think outside the box, and she sees the social factors of disease,” Feeley said. This creativity and perspective will be essential for continuing to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia.
The Muskie MAX program supports continued professional relationships between Muskie alumni and their American host universities by having a mentor or professor travel to the alumni’s home country and give seminars on their professional interests. For this project, Khabibulina was assisted by three Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program alumni, Ludmila Kosko, Eveline Yun, and Bulat Ziganshin.
The Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program is administered by IREX and funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State.