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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

$2.5M AIDS Project Targets Youth

A two-year, $2.5 million program to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections among young people in the Altai and Volgograd regions kicked off Monday.

The program -- which is intended to serve as a model for dealing with the AIDS epidemic that could be extended nationwide -- is being jointly funded by Britain's Department for International Development and the United Nations Foundation. It will involve six UN agencies, USAID, the Open Society Institute, also called the Soros Foundation, and federal and regional ministries.

"The HIV epidemic had a late start here," UN resident coordinator Frederick Lyons said Monday at a news conference. "It's catching up with merciless speed, and Russia is in the region that has had the highest rates of growth in the world in the last couple of years."

The number of registered cases has gone from 10,993 at the end of 1998 to 220,545 as of last month, and the true number of infected people may be several times greater.

The epidemic is hitting young people disproportionately. More than 80 percent of registered cases are people under 30 years old, and more than 20 percent are teenagers, Lyons said.

However, because the epidemic is concentrated in distinct high-risk groups -- intravenous drug users and sex workers -- targeted campaigns could make a large impact, he said.

"We are not without hope," said British Ambassador Roderic Lyne. "From our experience in Britain and of our agencies in other countries, we know that there are many different methods of limiting the epidemic. We want to spread those methods."

The program's $2.5 million budget is generous when compared to the amount that Russia has earmarked for AIDS this year -- about $6 million, and much of it is devoted to treatment.

Tatyana Shoumilina, program coordinator for UNAIDS in Moscow, said the two regions were selected from 17 that UNAIDS has worked with since 1999 to develop a strategic plan to counter the spread of the disease."Those 17 regions have developed a broad and deep understanding," she said.

The Volgograd and Altai regions were chosen for the commitment shown by the regions' nongovernmental groups and administrators and for their collaboration with each other, as well as for the number of UN agencies already operating.

The two regions also complement each other; Siberia's Altai region is agricultural, while southern Russia's Volgograd region is industrial, she said.

The program was first intended to run in three regions, but it was decided that the funding would be insufficient for more than two regions.

Shoumilina said the program's aim is for every young person in the region to be able to get an answer to questions about HIV/AIDS or any other kind of help they need. Also, 3 million free condoms and brochures will be distributed.

According to federal statistics, the number of registered HIV cases in the Volgograd region rose from 1,605 at the end of last year to 3,047 by Oct. 28 while in Altai, the comparable figures are 2,154 and 2,612.

Galina Khorosheva, deputy governor of the Volgograd region, said the problem was now spreading to the general population through sexual contact. Only 8 percent of new registered cases were infected through sexual contact last year, while this year the rate is 16 percent.