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Volunteers Are Guaranteed Anonymity : New Soviet Lab Tests Citizens Who Fear AIDS

March 12, 1987|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — A new laboratory in a remote corner of this city is attracting an unusual clientele--people who fear they may have AIDS.

They are guaranteed anonymity. They take a blood test and fill out a one-page questionnaire, and two days later they can find out whether they have cause to worry.

Of the 60 people who have taken the test so far, not one is known to have been exposed to the virus.

Vadim Pokrovsky, the doctor in charge of the lab, told an interviewer that similar tests on 30,000 Moscow blood donors over the last year had also failed to turn up any evidence of exposure to the virus.

But Pokrovsky said that at least 20 foreigners in the Soviet Union have AIDS--acquired immune deficiency syndrome--and that it may be spread through sexual contact to the Soviet population.

"Some of them (the foreigners) have not been distinguished by their monastic behavior," he said.

More Intensive Program

Pokrovsky, a soft-spoken man of 32 who is in charge of a medical group studying AIDS prevention and treatment, predicted that a more intensive screening program will turn up at least "a few dozen" Soviet citizens who have had sexual contact with foreigners.

AIDS--in Russian it is called SPID--is not widely known or widely feared in the Soviet Union. Only recently have the press and television begun to take notice of the toll it is taking in the United States, Western Europe, Africa and elsewhere.

One of the questions asked of those who take the blood test is, "Have you had sexual intercourse with foreigners?" Another question--and this is unusual in this country--is whether they have had intercourse with a member of their own sex.

Homosexuality is a criminal offense in the Soviet Union and is one of the few topics that is virtually never discussed, despite the new glasnost, or openness, policy of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

150 Telephone Calls

The AIDS laboratory opened two weeks ago, Pokrovsky said, and in addition to administering the 60 tests, it has responded to about 150 telephone calls inquiring about AIDS.

People who come in to be tested are assigned a number and may call back to get the results without ever disclosing their identity. On the questionnaire they are asked to give their age, the number of sex partners they have had in the past five years and whether they have taken narcotic drugs by means of a hypodermic needle. Pokrovsky said the answers are confidential.

"We want this information for scientific purposes," he said.

Deputy Health Minister Georgy N. Khlyabich said recently in an interview with the Literary Gazette that a comprehensive AIDS detection and treatment program is to be established in the Soviet Union.

'Foreign Carriers'

Khlyabich warned that there are "foreign carriers" in the Soviet Union, "especially of African origin," but added that the number of documented and suspected cases totals fewer than 30.

Apparently in connection with the AIDS phenomenon, the magazine Smena recently ran a two-part series on prostitution in the Soviet Union, focusing on women who deal with foreign residents and tourists.

It said the authorities have identified 726 "international prostitutes" in Moscow. It said they are known to the police and will be kept under close surveillance.

Still, Pokrovsky said his laboratory will not concentrate on any particular group for AIDS testing because this would go beyond their legal charter.

"We hope that their own concern would bring them to our anonymous laboratory," he said.

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