By Natalie Flath, aka Natasha, a health advocate and activist based in St. Petersburg, Russia.
St. Petersburg, Russia — On a morning walk down Dostoevsky street here in Russia’s second largest city, with my head phones on to block out the sounds on the street, I try to catch up on the news around the world before I start the work day.
“Euromaiden protests in Kiev.” Hey, that’s where my babushka was born.
“University students crowd the streets of Caracas.” That’s where my mom was born.
“Policeman kills an ex-soldier in Tacoma.” That’s where I was born.
Less noticed are these recent news items:
The Guardian WHO calls for access to hepatitis C drugs
Many people are, of course, paying attention these days to the unrest and conflicts in Ukraine, and perhaps most are aware of Russia’s ongoing battle with high HIV rates. But few have paid much attention to the needs of the many thousands of residents in this city, not to mention the 150 million people worldwide, infected with hepatitis C – and how the marketplace approach to this global health need is failing.
I’ve been working with St. Petersburg civil society, two grassroots NGOs, for almost 18 months now. I got this gig from first networking with other organizations while still working in Seattle doing biomedical HIV prevention research. After volunteering one summer to work here with HIV-positive children in a tuberculosis sanitorium, I decided to reach out to activists.
That was before people were paying much attention to Russian activists, other than maybe the outspoken punk rockers Pussy Riot, and before the Ukrainians kicked out their president and Russia annexed Crimea.
What I was focused on was the fact that Eastern Europe and Central Asia, a territory mixed with high- and middle-income countries, is experiencing one of the fastest growing HIV and TB epidemics in the world. I was curious to dig deeper into the faces behind the numbers, tap into my Eastern European roots, and discover all the hype about the grassroots movement.
St. Petersburg is a big, urban city and perhaps not your typical rural village that the term “global health” seems to evoke – but what’s happening here deserves as much attention as the iconic poor, rural village in Africa.
My coworker and HIV-positive friend, Andre, showed me his new tattoo – an angel of death sprawling over his liver.