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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Challenged To Boost AIDS Funds

The country's top AIDS official on Monday applauded Russia's pledge at the recent Group of Seven summit to donate $20 million toward the global fight against AIDS and challenged President Vladimir Putin to match that amount at home.

"I'm glad that President Putin paid attention to the problems of AIDS," said Dr. Vadim Pokrovsky, Russia's leading epidemiologist and the head of the Russian AIDS Research Center. "We're just waiting to get as much funds as the foreign countries."

Putin pledged the $20 million for a $1.2 billion fund that was launched Friday at the G-7 meeting in Genoa, Italy. The fund, which will be overseen by the United Nations, is to combat AIDS and other diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, which are spreading rapidly in mostly Third World countries.

A Health Ministry official said Monday that some of the money donated to the UN fund would go to help Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

Pokrovsky said that the federal government has allotted 150 million rubles ($5.17 million) to Russia's fight against AIDS this year.

"We need more funds," he said, adding that since the start of the year more than 50,000 new HIV-positive cases have been registered, the same amount as were registered in the whole of 2000.

"Russia is going through a very quick epidemic," Pokrovsky said.

Officially, 135,000 people are registered as HIV positive in Russia. Pokrovsky said the actual figure was probably closer to 1.3 million and that more than 3 million people would be infected within two years.

Pokrovsky has previously estimated that 10 percent of Russia's 145 million people would be infected by 2005.

In addition to treating the infected, Russia needs to spend money educating the public on how to avoid catching the virus, Pokrovsky said.

Arkadiuzc Maishich, a specialist at UNAIDS in Moscow, said Russia could have an epidemic similar to Africa's within 10 years if nothing is done.

"I would be very happy to have this $20 million to spend here," Maishich said.

Unlike in Africa where the disease is mainly spread through sexual contact, the growth in Russia is linked more to drug addicts using contaminated needles.

Maishich said needle exchange programs that the UN has set up here were doing little to address the spread of HIV because they were not being copied by the federal government due to their semi-legal status.

In Kaliningrad, where the disease has hit Russia the hardest, 20 percent to 40 percent of prostitutes are drug users, with half of them HIV positive, Maishich said.

He said that an inter-ministerial committee is currently being formed under Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko to coordinate the fight against AIDS.

Pokrovsky, however, expressed doubt that the committee would be able to do much in its fight unless it was headed by someone with influence.

"You need someone with power and money," he said, suggesting Putin. "Matvienko has none."