The St. Petersburg/New Haven Partnership for HIV/AIDS Care, Treatment and Support was launched yesterday at City Hall.

Russian and American health care professionals will travel between New Haven and St. Petersburg, Russia in order to share their ideas and experiences pertaining to the care of HIV and AIDS patients. Yale University School of Medicine applied to be a member of the exchange last spring and was chosen to be the United States’ lead partner institution.

New Haven’s project overseers, Dr. Krystn Wagner and Dr. Robert Heimer, said the alliance will be beneficial to both countries, but said the American contingency has more knowledge about the disease, since Russia’s epidemic began later. The partnership is funded by a two-year grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Moscow.

“I think the best we can hope for in this partnership, which is phenomenally exciting, is the chance to work with an entire city whose population is three times the size of New Haven and help shape their approach to AIDS from the ground up,” said Heimer, who is an associate professor in the department of Epidemiology and Public Health.

In order to combat the various obstacles to HIV/AIDS treatment, members of the partnership have developed a strategic work plan. Russian health care professionals will be trained in HIV clinical management, including the prescription and administration of the proper medications. In addition to coordinating specialized health centers, Wagner said the Americans will stress the importance of case managers and social support services, such as programs like Meals on Wheels.

Wagner, assistant professor of infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine, said many Russian patients contracted the HIV virus in the early 1990s and began showing AIDS symptoms later in the decade. This timing, she said, is a result of the strict border control before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

“The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 allowed for the movement of people and other things across the borders — importantly, drugs from Afghanistan and the Far East,” she said. “There were also higher unemployment rates and less social support.”

The combination of these factors, she said, explains why 80 percent of infected Russians are younger than 30 years old.

“Many of them are young men — unemployed, living at home with their parents — who became drug users,” Wagner said.

She cited the reluctance of Russian health care professionals to treat drug users as one of the obstacles to proper care. Russian specialty clinics, including centers for drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis, do not currently collaborate under one umbrella program.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who attended the presentation, said the partnership’s goals were characteristic of the city’s general attitude.

“New Haven is distinguished for many things, nothing more so than its caregivers reaching out to the HIV community,” he said.

Five Russian medical professionals will join the New Haven community on Oct. 3. They will be the first travelers in a series of exchanges that will number four per year; two groups of Russians and Americans will stay in New Haven and St. Petersburg for 10 days. The first Americans will go to Russia at the end of October.

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