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Russia Experiencing Steady Growth Rate in HIV Infections - 2003-12-01

Russia's leading AIDS expert says the number of Russians infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS has increased nearly 10-fold during the past three years.

The head of the Russian government's program to fight HIV/AIDS, Vadim Pokrovsky, says experts in his department estimate that, within a few years, deaths from AIDS in Russia may become as numerous and commonplace as those from car accidents.

Experts have long said that Russia has one of the world's fastest growing infection rates, fueled mainly by drug abuse and sharing dirty needles.

Mr. Pokrovsky says advances have been made in acknowledging that there is a real problem with AIDS in Russia. But he says the government's prevention efforts still fall well below what is needed to make a real impact in halting the spread of the disease.

Mr. Pokrovsky says the annual budget for this year's federal anti-AIDS program is 27 million rubles, or less than $1 million. He says that if you divide this sum by Russia's population, you will find that the average Russian citizen gets not even one ruble.

At the current rate of international exchange, 29 rubles equals $1.

Mr. Pokrovsky also expresses concern that Russia's lack of adequate testing and registration leads to a gap in real reporting of those infected with HIV, or AIDS. He says he fears that in the next five years, Russia may face an AIDS pandemic, with hundreds of thousands of people becoming infected and dying.

The United Nations has forecast that Russia could lose up to half its population from AIDS by 2050, an estimated 72 million people.

Cases of AIDS have been registered in nearly all regions of Russia, but the worst affected region has been the capital, Moscow, and its environs. Close behind is St. Petersburg and some regions in Siberia.

The Russian Federation's head sanitary doctor, Gennady Onishenko, told reporters in Moscow recently that Russia's youth have been especially hard hit.

According to Mr. Onishenko, 62 percent of all newly infected Russian citizens are between 20 and 30 years old.

In addition, he says, 32 percent of the newly infected are young women. This, in turn, causes problems during childbirth, with the mother transferring the infection to her newborn 30 percent of the time.

Russia also has 36,000 HIV-infected inmates in prisons that are notoriously overcrowded and under-funded - conditions ripe for further spread of the disease.