Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Drug Use Fuels Urals AIDS Scourge

YEKATERINBURG, Ural Mountains -- Doctors have declared an AIDS epidemic in Yekaterinburg and say the spread of the virus is fueled by rising drug addiction among its 1.5 million people.

Alla Golubkova, head doctor at the center for AIDS, said Wednesday that the number of people infected with HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, was rising at a rapid rate and posed a threat to the population of the Urals city.

"Almost every day another person appears and is registered as being infected with HIV. The illness is snowballing and doctors are not in a position to control this process," she said.

A year ago, 51 people were registered as suffering from AIDS, but the number has jumped to 238 since the beginning of this year. Almost all of the sufferers were drug addicts, she said.

Doctors said that by the end of the year the number of AIDS sufferers in the region could swell to thousands if it continued to spread at the current pace.

Golubkova said measures were being taken in Yekaterinburg.

"The city authorities have passed a decree to open places where syringes can be exchanged and have already provided for a series of measures to fight against drug abuse," Golubkova said.

"According to the doctors, now in Yekaterinburg there are more than 5,000 drug users, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are more, much more."

Cases of HIV have risen rapidly across the country, with a senior public health official saying earlier this year that cases of the virus had more than trebled in 1999 compared with 1998.

Gennady Onishenko, a senior public health official, said the main reason behind the surge in HIV was the government's lack of activity in fighting drug abuse and prostitution - two of the main causes for the spread of the illness.

Eduard Rossel, the governor of the Sverdlovsk region, which includes Yekaterinburg, said last year that the increase in drug abuse in the region had "reached the scale of catastrophe."

He has said there should be a referendum in the region on bringing back the death penalty for drugs dealers.

HIV has spread in Russia at a time when infection rates have been steady or declining for a number of years in Europe and North America.