- MOSCOW (Reuters) - The spread
of AIDS could reach catastrophic proportions in Russia unless officials
take quick action to reduce runaway growth rates of the killer disease,
Russian and foreign experts said Wednesday.
- The joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS),
in a statement issued ahead of a two-day visit to Russia, put the number
of HIV and AIDS sufferers at 130,000 at the end of last year. But there
is broad agreement that the number of cases is significantly under-reported.
- Vadim Pokrovsky, director of the AIDS prevention center,
told Ekho Moskvy radio that at the current rate of growth Russia could
have up to a million infected cases in two to three years.
- He said some consequences of the spread of the disease
were already irreversible and if ``a passive and indifferent attitude to
this epidemic (continues) Russians will face many more serious problems
- ``The main plague will start in five or six years because
people are dying on average 10-12 years after contracting the infection
and the mass epidemic in Russia started in the 1990s.''
- UNAIDS said the largest share of funds requested for
Russia would go toward preventing the spread of HIV -- the virus that causes
AIDS -- through injecting drugs, by far the principal means of transmission
in the country.
- Resources would also be allocated for what was seen as
a growing problem -- sexually transmitted infections, with efforts directed
at young people and mothers-to-be.
- ``So far, the epidemic in Russia has been driven by drug
users,'' Arkadiusz Majszyk, UNAIDS representative in Russia, said in the
- ``But a second wave of HIV infections spread by sexual
contact could follow the current drug-driven epidemic and in just three
to four years, Russia may well have a generalized epidemic.''
- UNAIDS said its executive director, Peter Piot, would
meet high-ranking Russian officials and non-governmental groups on Thursday.
The U.N. agency called on donors to allocate at least $20 million over
the next three years to stem the epidemic.
- Russian Aids Programs Poorly Financed
- Pokrovsky said the existing anti-AIDS programs in Russia
were ``surprisingly weak'' because they were poorly financed.
- He said Russia had spent 44 million roubles ($1.6 million)
on its AIDS program this year, roughly 1,000 times less than that spent
in the United States.
- Majszyk also told Ekho Moskvy Russia had the world's
highest rate of growth for the spread of the killer disease.
- ``In the space of one month this year, 30,000 new HIV
cases were uncovered, while last year this figure was three times lower,''
Majszyk said. ``With so many cases we can begin to talk about a threat
to national security.''
- The World Health Organization said this month the number
of registered HIV infections in Russia had doubled annually for the last
five years and it urged the country to take tough measures.
- AIDS is the fourth biggest killer worldwide. About 18.8
million people have died since 1983, including 2.8 million last year, UNAIDS
says. Nearly twice as many -- 34.3 million -- are living with HIV.
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