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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Says AIDS Boom Caused by Ignorance

Ignorance is a chief factor behind the rapid spread in Russia of the virus that causes AIDS, representatives of international organizations fighting the epidemic said Thursday at a news conference in Moscow.

Dr. Ezio Gianni Murzi, Russian representative of UNICEF, or the UN children's fund, said the situation is disturbing because Russians, especially the young, are not ready to face the dangers of HIV infection.

"We need to provide good quality information, we need young people to take part in spreading this information and of course we need centers to popularize this information," Murzi said.

The number of reported cases of infection by the human immunodeficiency virus grew 3.7 times during the first 10 months of 1997 compared with the same period last year, officials say.

Any effort to teach about acquired immune deficiency syndrome is likely to be controversial, however, since Russia has thus far reacted nervously to Western-style HIV and AIDS prevention programs such as encouraging sex education in schools, distribution of condoms or needle exchange programs for drug users, who constitute 73 percent of HIV-infected people in Russia, according to official statistics.

According to Russia's Health Ministry, the number of people with HIV in Russia could be 10,000 or more, but experts say the real number cannot be determined with any accuracy.

"The problem is that the registered cases are likely to represent a minority of all HIV-positive Russians, who simply are not aware of the fact that they are infected," said Andrej Cima, the chairman of the United Nations group on HIV and AIDS prevention.

The main concern is the speed with which the incurable infection spreads across the country. The first case was officially registered in Russia in 1987, and at the end of 1994, there were still only 876 registered infections.

The spread of the infection throughout the country acquired the status of an epidemic in 1995, health officials say.

There were 6,232 registered HIV-infected people in Russia as of Nov. 1, up from 2,614 at the end of 1996. A hotbed of new infections is the Kaliningrad region, a crossroads for the drug trade.

The latest UN report, issued prior to World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, estimated that the peak of HIV and AIDS pandemic will be reached by the year 2010. Currently there are an estimated 30 million cases of HIV and AIDS worldwide. About 16,000 people become infected with HIV every day and 1,600 of them are children.