Russia's chief doctor concerned over rising number of HIV+ women

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"Another problem stemming from this is that women who have contracted the virus through sexual contacts may pass it on to their babies," Gennady Onishchenko said.

MOSCOW, June 8 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's chief medical officer raised concerns Thursday over the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS among women, echoing comments made by other health officials that the disease was spreading at increasing rates through sexual contacts.

Vadim Pokrovsky, head of Russia's federal AIDS research center, warned in April that 1% of the population aged between 18 and 23 was infected and that most new cases resulted from sexual contacts rather than from sharing dirty needles, long considered the prime source of the disease in Russia.

And Gennady Onishchenko told a Moscow conference on HIV/AIDS in Eurasia that the feminization of HIV was a particular concern.

"Another problem stemming from this is that women who have contracted the virus through sexual contacts may pass it on to their babies," he said.

Russia is already facing a demographic crisis - President Vladimir Putin said in his May 10 state of the nation address that the population was declining by 700,000 a year - and an AIDS epidemic could have dire consequences for the country.

Onishchenko said particular attention should be paid to studying how HIV/AIDS is transmitted. This issue will be high on the agenda of the summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations in St. Petersburg in July, he said.

The official also called on civil society to contribute more to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"It's good that public organizations, the Russian Orthodox Church, and members of the business community and the government have already been engaged in HIV prevention," he said. "But this is insufficient. More members of civil society have to become involved in finding a solution to this problem."

Onishchenko said more than 350,000 Russians suffer from HIV/AIDS, but independent experts have suggested that the real number may be close on a million.

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