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AIDS official: HIV spreading fast in Russia

AIDS official: HIV spreading fast in Russia

Russia's top AIDS official lambasted the government's approach to fighting HIV, saying the number of registered cases was growing 10 percent a year despite increased federal funding.
A misguided focus on treatment instead of prevention has undermined efforts to fight the disease's spread, said Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the state-funded Federal AIDS Center, which is charged with coordinating efforts.
"It seems to me that we still have no national policy on fighting AIDS," Pokrovsky said. "We are running in place, and meanwhile HIV is spreading."
Each day about 130 new cases are registered in Russia, Pokrovsky said, estimating there are more than 1 million Russians infected with HIV _ or almost 1 percent of the country's 142 million population _ though officially Russia has registered less than half that number at 470,000.
A large number are young drug users infected by dirty needles or tainted communal drug supplies, experts say.
However, widespread social stigmas, misinformation and official denial means many people remain unaware they are at risk of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Some regional governors "have simply refused to acknowledge the problem of AIDS," Pokrovsky said. Others, assuming higher spending would make the problem go away, have done little to publicize the problem, he said.
"Everyone needs to understand that this is a threat to the nation, and it's necessary to mobilize as one would for war," Pokrovsky said.
He urged the government to devise a clear strategy for informing citizens about HIV, and said funding would have to be used more wisely for results.
The government budgeted to 10.7 billion rubles ($406 million) for HIV-related activities last year _ more than 50 times higher than in 2005, as high returns on oil led to investment in infrastructure, including the country's dilapidated health care system. This year, however, the government cut AIDS funding due to the ongoing financial crisis, and Pokrovsky warned that future funds were also in jeopardy.
The government is spending 7.1 billion rubles ($270 million) on AIDS programs this year, including 5.1 billion rubles ($193 million) on drug treatments for 30,000 AIDS patients, but only 200 million rubles ($7.6 million) for prevention _ which Pokrovsky called inadequate.
"This is the weakest point in our work: prevention of new cases of infection," he said. "We are doing practically nothing about this."
The money that is earmarked for prevention was often being misspent, he said, citing an example of a 100 million ruble ($3.6 million) AIDS awareness television program that aired at 8:30 a.m. nationwide _ a time when the audience was mostly pensioners and unlikely to be in any high-risk groups.


Updated : 2021-10-21 02:59 GMT+08:00