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    Russia's birth, mortality rates to equal by 2011 - ministry

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    PENZA, January 23 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's health ministry predicted on Wednesday that the birth rate in Russia would equal the mortality rate by 2011.

    "By 2011 the mortality rate should be equal to the birth rate," Social Development and Health Minister Tatyana Golikova said.

    In the first eleven months of 2007 the mortality rate in Russia was 14.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 15.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2006, the minister said.

    The average mortality rate for the 27-member European Union in 2006 was 10.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. The first time in European modern history the death rate exceeded births.

    Demographic issues are widely seen as one of the main threats facing modern Russia since market reforms and economic hardship of the 1990s.

    Many experts are concerned that Russia will be hit be a demographic crisis in the near future and according to UN predictions, Russia's population, currently at about 142 million, could fall by 30% by the middle of the century.

    In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a set of targets to improve the country's demographic policy to 2025. The proposals are designed to lower the national mortality rate, raise birth rates, improve national health and regulate immigration.

    In 2008-2010, the country plans to invest almost 500 billion rubles ($19.3 billion) in socio-demographic programs.

    Maternity incentives, including payouts of about $9,500 for the birth of two or more children, the so called baby-money, were introduced in early 2007 following a presidential initiative.

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