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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Few Funds To Fight Diphtheria, Aide Says

The government lacks the funds to fight the country's growing diphtheria epidemic, a senior Health Ministry official said Tuesday, but other officials said there was no need to adopt an urgent program.


Alexander Shirshov, a senior official in the financial planning department of the Health Ministry, said the ministry does not have the financial means to fight the epidemic this year because it has received only 20 percent of its promised 1993 budget of 407 billion rubles (about $400 million). He said he expected to receive only another 20 percent for the remainder of the year.


Other Health Ministry officials said, however, that they have no plans to launch a public awareness campaign to encourage people to get inoculated.


They said they are waiting for parliament to adopt a $246 million, five-year program to combat the disease, even though the infection rate for the disease has tripled in the first seven months of 1993 over the previous year.


Despite the shortage of funding, foreign experts said there is little evidence that Russia is seeking international assistance to combat the epidemic. An official at the European Community in Brussels said no request for aid had been received, although the EC would be willing to assist.


Valentina Sadovnikova, epidemiologist from the State Epidemiological Committee, said that currently only 15 percent of adults are vaccinated.


The Russian parliament is planning to adopt a "preventive vaccination" program in the next week calling for inoculation of 95 percent of the country's children and 70 percent of adults by 1997, officials said.


The disease, which attacks mucous membranes, causes difficulty in breathing and can prove fatal, has already infected 4, 691 people since January, compared with 1, 543 over the same period last year, according to the State Committee for Sanitary and Epidemiological Surveillance. More than 900 cases have been reported in Moscow this year with at least 48 deaths.


Although most experts have said there are enough vaccines and needles in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the two cities which have been hit worst by the epidemic, authorities said new funds would be used to buy equipment to produce vaccines rather than for awareness programs.


There have been occasional reports in Russian newspapers about the disease, but the mass media has given the epidemic relatively little attention.


Most Russian and Western health officials agree that getting Russians to go to clinics for their shots has been the toughest hurdle in the campaign to fight the spread of diphtheria. There are sufficient disposable syringes and in Russia's big cities, they say, but people still fear that they may get another disease, namely AIDS, at the hospitals or suffer side effects from the shots.


Asked how the government was planning to sway people to get inoculated, an official said that the ministry was already informing the public by way of "mass media channels".


"Our specialists appear on scientific programs to explain about inoculation", said Reshat Khalitov, head of the preventive aid department of the ministry, adding that current programs were sufficient.


Questioned why it had taken so long to pass a program on immunization, a spokesman, said at the Supreme Soviet Health Committee, "The political epidemics in the country were more important than the medical ones".


Murray Feshbach, an American demographer who has devoted 20 years to investigating and health of the former Soviet Union, predicted Moscow's diphtheria epidemic last January and criticized the government for spending so little on health.


Vera Akulskaya, acting chief epidemiologist of Yekaterinburg, said in a telephone interview that "the situation in the city is not calm" as far as diphtheria is concerned and that there had been no coverage in the local press about the epidemic.