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    Watchdog updates HIV statistics in Russia

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    MOSCOW, August 31 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow, St. Petersburg and another eight regions account for 60% of registered HIV cases in Russia, a consumer watchdog said Thursday.

    "HIV infection has been spreading unevenly in the Russian Federation," said the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare. "About 60% of all registered HIV cases are concentrated in 10 Russian regions."

    The service said the regions with the largest number of HIV cases include St. Petersburg and its suburbs, Moscow and the Moscow Region, the Urals region of Sverdlovsk, the Siberian regions of Irkutsk, Chelyabinsk and Khanty-Mansi, and the Samara Region on the Volga River, all major financial centers or resource-rich areas.

    St. Petersburg has 30,115 registered HIV-infected people, the Sverdlovsk Region has 28,496, and the Moscow region and Moscow have 27,978 and 25,968 respectively.

    The watchdog said 15,997 new HIV cases were registered in the country in the first half of 2006, representing a 18% decline on the same period of last year.

    As of August 16, 2006, a total of 348,787 cases of HIV had been reported in the country, including 925 children who contracted the virus from their mothers.

    However, independent experts have suggested that over a million Russians, or roughly 1% of the country's population, are infected.

    About 15,000 children born to HIV-positive mothers have not been diagnosed with the virus, but are under medical control.

    The service said HIV is quite a young disease in Russia.

    "79% of all people with HIV/AIDS were first diagnosed with HIV at the age of 15 to 30, and 51% at the age of 18-25," the service said.

    Until 2004, HIV was most often contracted through drug injections, but recently the virus has increasingly been spread via sexual contact. Sexually transmitted HIV cases grew from 6% in 2001 to 30% in 2004 and 40-50% in 2005.

    The Russian government has been repeatedly criticized for not doing enough to tackle its accelerating HIV/AIDS epidemic.

    Russia has allocated some 4.1 billion rubles ($152 million) for a national project to combat HIV/AIDS in 2006, which includes access to free treatment and measures to raise awareness and make people more sympathetic to sufferers.

    Russia's chief doctor, Gennady Onishchenko, said ahead of the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg in July, where infectious diseases were high on the agenda, that 15,000 HIV-positive Russians would have access to free antiretroviral drugs and treatment in 2006, and that this figure could double in 2007.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking on the sidelines of the G8 summit, said all people infected with HIV would have access to antiretroviral drugs by the end of this decade.

    "If programs now in the making are implemented, access to drugs will be provided for all HIV carriers," he said.

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