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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

$2.9Bln to Go Toward Combating Disease

The Cabinet has tentatively approved a $2.9 billion program aimed at raising the country's life expectancy by tackling AIDS, diabetes, tuberculosis and other diseases.

Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov trumpeted the HIV portion of the program as "an essential step forward."

Under the program, the state would provide medical treatment for 30,000 people living with HIV. "A couple years ago, only 700 people with HIV or AIDS could get treatment," Zurabov told the Cabinet while presenting the five-year program Thursday.

Now, 18,000 of the 58,000 people who need treatment are receiving it, according to the Federal AIDS Center. The official number of HIV cases in Russia is 380,000.

The draft program would put Russia on par with the United States in treatment, said Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Federal AIDS Center. "We plan to supply the drugs to half of those who need them, which is roughly how they do it in the United States," Pokrovsky said by telephone.

The count of 380,000 HIV-positive people, however, reflects only those who have registered with the health system. The actual number of infected people was believed to be 940,000 in late 2005, said Yelena Tomazova, a spokeswoman for UNAIDS. Nearly 13,500 new cases were registered in the first six months of 2006.

The state also needs to educate the public about prevention and treatment services, some of which are hard to reach in remote areas, said Mikhail Rukavishikov, head of the Society of People Living With HIV, a nongovernmental organization.

"Many people who need treatment just do not know about it," he said. At the same time, the treatment itself is complicated, Rukavishikov said. "It is impossible to do it by yourself," he said.

This may be one reason why people discontinue treatment -- an interruption that can be dangerous as it leads the body to build resistance to the drugs.

About 1,000 people gave up treatment last year, the country's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, said at a news conference Feb. 12.

The treatment of about 60 people was interrupted in the Leningrad region alone last summer due to a drug procurement problem, said Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Front AIDS, a nongovernmental organization in St. Petersburg.

"Expanding access to antiretroviral therapy is good as such, but people still will suffer and die because of HIV-related illnesses," he added.

About 32,000 people are infected in St. Petersburg, and about 80 percent of them are ill with hepatitis. But "the city has only 350 sets for hepatitis treatment available," Rumyantsev said.

Ensuring regular treatment will be a challenge for the federal program, said Corinna Reinicke, coordinator of the World Health Organization's HIV-AIDS program in Russia.

Also at the Cabinet meeting, Zurabov said one in 10 migrant workers suffers from infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or hepatitis. "We were shocked with the numbers," he said, citing a recent investigation.

He said his ministry was checking ordinary Russians, migrants and prisoners to establish the nature of the problem and find ways to deal with it.