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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Official Sounds AIDS Alarm

AIDS will soon ravage Russia with consequences that may be even more catastrophic than in Africa, yet the public is barely even aware the epidemic has arrived, Russia's top AIDS official said.

After decades of little contact with the disease, Russia and Ukraine have suddenly been caught unprepared in the throes of the world's fastest growing epidemic.

Of Russia's 180,000 officially registered HIV infections, 100,000 occurred just last year. Experts guess the actual number of Russian cases is as high as 1 million, almost 1 percent of adults.

"Every year, we see the number of new cases doubling. If this continues even two or three more years, we will see not 1 percent, but 2, 4, 8," Vadim Pokrovsky, head of Russia's official AIDS center, said in an interview.

Even if Russia's epidemic stops before it reaches the double-digit infection rates in some parts of Africa, the demographic and economic impact would prove even more severe, he said. "In Africa, there are high birth rates, but in Russia the birth rate is low. If we have a rate of only 3 percent infected, population would fall by 6 percent."

Because infected people do not immediately fall ill and require treatment, the disease is still all but invisible, Pokrovsky said.

"People do not see this danger. Maybe it is because for so many years we warned them 'AIDS is coming. AIDS is coming.' And it never came," he said. "We expected it sooner. It came later. And now people still think we're just making noise."