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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Heralds Drop in Disease

Russia has made progress fighting several diseases that can be controlled by childhood vaccination, with measles and polio cases falling this year, a leading public heath official said Tuesday.

But other diseases -- including AIDS, whooping cough, hepatitis and influenza -- remain serious public health problems, First Deputy Health Minister Gennady Onishchenko said at a press conference in Moscow.

In the first seven months of 1997, said Onishchenko, cases of measles had fallen about 60 percent compared to the previous year, and there were only two cases of polio recorded nationwide. Diphtheria fell 67 percent in the same period, he also said.

"By the year 2000 we are planning to eliminate polio completely in Russia," he said.

Onishchenko said the limited successes came from progress in restoring the nationwide system of vaccinating children. For several years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the resulting chaos in the state-run health system meant fewer children got their shots.

He said the rate of immunization began to rise in 1994 and the results are now being felt in measles and polio cases.

There was still plenty of disconcerting news, however. Whooping cough cases jumped 2 1/2 times, he said.

AIDS infections are booming as well, he said, with 2,985 new HIV infections registered so far this year. "This number exceeds the total of the previous 10 years since the disease was first registered in Russia," he said. "It is an epidemic."

Kaliningrad, sandwiched between the Baltic countries and Poland, led the country in the first seven months of 1997 in new HIV infections, Onishchenko said, with 1,656, followed by Krasnodar with 866, Moscow and Moscow region with 593, Rostov-on-Don with 552, and Nizhny Novgorod with 393.

Official statistics are believed to seriously undercount HIV infections.

Onishchenko said that the majority of new HIV infections were the result of needle-sharing by intravenous drug abusers. But he also blamed the spread of the disease on what he termed the collapse of moral standards in Russia.

"Just look through the television channels, especially after 11 p.m.," he said. "I just wonder what kids think and do after seeing all these shows."

Russia still faces difficulty controlling water-borne intestinal infections, and yearly influenza epidemics. Virus mutation, along with low levels of vaccination, leads to millions of Russians falling ill with flu during outbreaks.

Onishchenko said the cases of cholera reported in Dagestan did not threaten an epidemic in other parts of the country.