The number of people in Russia infected with HIV has risen by more than 10% since January, Russia's top AIDS expert said Friday, again underscoring the deadly disease's gathering threat to the country.
Vadim Pokrovsky, who heads the Federal AIDS Center, said the official number of people infected with HIV climbed from 270,000 to 300,000 between January and October, according to the Interfax news agency. Pokrovsky, however, warned that figure represents only those who have officially registered with authorities. He said a more realistic number would be 1 million to 1.5 million people, the majority of whom live in Russia's two largest cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. "It is quite likely that the epidemic will progress by the same pattern as in Africa, where HIV is contracted primarily through sex," Pokrovsky was quoted as saying by Interfax.
Activists and foreign AIDS experts say Russia faces an explosive pandemic in coming years because of widespread misconceptions, underfunded programs, and official ignorance toward HIV and AIDS.
Human rights groups have warned that harsh drug policies and routine police harassment of intravenous-drug users--one of the main populations at risk from transmission of AIDS and HIV--are fueling the AIDS epidemic in Russia. Pokrovsky warned that as many as 1 million people may die of AIDS in Russia by 2008, and he criticized government funding of education and prevention programs, which he said now totals about $4.5 million annually.
"Financing is not growing but is in fact being reduced," he said, according to Interfax. Officials say 1,030 people in Russia are registered as having AIDS; experts and activists say that number could quadruple to 5,000 in the next two years.