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Ukrainian Woman Ignored Order, Gets 4-Year Sentence : Soviets Jail Citizen for Exposing Others to AIDS

Times Staff Writer

In the first reported case of its kind, Soviet authorities have given a Ukrainian woman with AIDS a lengthy prison sentence under recently enacted legislation aimed at stopping the spread the disease.

The newspaper Medical Gazette said that the woman, who was identified only as Olga L. of the Ukrainian city of Kakhovka, was sentenced to four years in prison after ignoring a “categorical order to abstain from sexual activities.”

In a further sign of concern about the disease, authorities announced Wednesday that they are taking steps to screen foreign residents for the human immunodeficiency virus that can lead to AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov told a news conference that statistics for the past year showed that 334 foreigners and 112 Soviet citizens had tested positive for the virus. All the Soviets and five foreigners also had the disease, he said, including a Soviet woman who died recently in Leningrad.

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Deportation Possible

Because of the high incidence of the disease among foreigners, Gerasimov said, starting Feb. 1, all foreigners resident in the country for more than three months must produce a certificate showing they are free of the disease or they will be screened by Soviet authorities. Persons found to have the virus may be deported, he said.

The requirement affects only residents, not tourists, and appears to be aimed at the large number of foreign students in the country.

“We don’t want this kind of imports,” Gerasimov said. He did not indicate how frequently residents would be required to be tested.

Olga L., the woman in the Ukraine case, apparently contracted the disease while married to an African student she met in the Soviet Union. The medical newspaper said she moved with her husband to his home in Central Africa and later returned to the Soviet Union. Her condition was discovered when she was examined after being involved in an accident.

The case against her was brought under a law enacted in August, 1987, that calls for imprisonment of anyone who knowingly exposes another person to the human immunodeficiency virus. The penalty is more severe if the person infected with the virus actually develops the disease.

‘A Lesson to All’

“This can be a lesson to us all,” the newspaper told its readers, who are mostly health workers. “It’s time to drop the illusion that the disease spreads only among a high-risk group.”

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The woman was restricted to her hometown and ordered to refrain from sexual activity, but “she was far from (sexually) inactive,” the newspaper reported, and this prompted the local disease-prevention services to open a criminal case against her.

Soviet press coverage of AIDS has been one of the areas that has benefited under the government’s policy of glasnost , or openness. In the past, the Soviet Union had sought to project an image of itself as a nation with no drug addicts, prostitutes and homosexuals, the groups considered at high risk to AIDS.

The AIDS problem in the Soviet Union is generally regarded as tiny compared to what it is in the United States and Western Europe. Still, concern is on the rise here.

The youth magazine Yunost said in an article about AIDS in December that it was past the time to wonder whether the Soviet Union was vulnerable to an epidemic.

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“The epidemic has already started,” the magazine said. “One thing is clear--the cases registered in the Soviet Union represent the tip of an iceberg whose true dimensions are impossible to determine.”

As Yunost pointed out, the Soviet Union is behind other countries in many respects in terms of AIDS prevention programs. The magazine complained of an “acute shortage of disposable needles” and a “catastrophic shortage of condoms.”

“The problem of safe sex has run into this colossal shortage of prophylactics and their very low quality,” the magazine said. “In many cities they are obtainable only on the black market at speculative prices.”

It said a number of factors tend to limit the spread of AIDS in the Soviet Union, among them the fact that blood is not imported, that the number of drug addicts, though growing, is much smaller than in the United States and that homosexuality is a serious crime here.

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“We do not have organized homosexual communities with their clubs, which played such a sinister role in the proliferation of the virus in the United States, especially in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles,” the magazine said.

It called for the creation of a national coordinator to fight AIDS with the same determination that the country used to become a nuclear power and enter the Space Age.

It said public health recommendations to avoid AIDS still have not been widely disseminated in the Soviet Union.


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