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Russia approves
plan to fight HIV and other diseases

Russia approves
plan to fight HIV and other diseases

The Russian government on Thursday approved a new program to fight diseases that contribute to the country's plunging population, which President Vladimir Putin has singled out as a serious hindrance to its prosperity, news reports said.

Approval of a five-year financing plan aiming to decrease mortality from diseases including diabetes, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and cancer came as the state statistics agency said Russia's population dropped by more than 560,000 last year to 142.2 million, a new post-Soviet low.

Putin has lamented a persistent population decline that has served as a stark backdrop for the largely oil-fueled economic growth that has rejuvenated Russia during his presidency. He has focused largely on increasing the birthrate--encouraging childbirth by establishing subsidies for parents starting with their second child--but deaths continue to outnumber births, and life expectancy remains short, particularly for men.

A Health and Social Development Ministry official said male life expectancy in 2005 was 58.9 years, which it said was 15-20 years shorter than in the United States, France, and Japan, while female life expectancy of 72.3 years was four to seven years shorter than in those countries, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

The official said the suicide rate was rising, with nearly 40,000 each year, and deaths outpace births by at least 50% in most parts of Russia, ITAR-Tass reported.

Low living standards and financial worries aggravate stress and lead to unhealthy behavior, domestic violence, and psychological problems, the agency quoted the unidentified official as saying.

The anti-disease program for 2007-2011 is to be financed with $2.9 billion, more than half of it from regional budgets, ITAR-Tass and RIA-Novosti quoted Health and Social Development minister Mikhail Zurabov as saying. He said Russia's provinces had fallen far short of financing targets for the program that expired last year and urged them to do better.

According to ITAR-Tass, allocations for the 2002-2006 previous program totaled only $750 million. (AP)

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