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Russia facing AIDS 'catastrophe'
MOSCOW, Russia -- The World Bank is negotiating a $150 million loan with Russia to help fight what a U.N. official has called the world's highest AIDS growth rate.
Russian and international experts have warned the government that the spread of the disease could reach catastrophic proportions in Russia unless officials take quick action to reduce runaway growth rates.
"This is really the time for action, particularly because AIDS is a serious problem among young people and so it's really a problem for Russia's future," World Bank country director for Russia, Michael Carter, said.
"We hope that the government will be ready to negotiate this loan early in the new year so we can provide support through that loan to the government's (AIDS) program."
The joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) put the number of HIV and AIDS sufferers in Russia at 130,000 at the end of last year. But there is broad agreement that cases are significantly under-reported.
Arkadiusz Majszyk, UNAIDS representative in Russia, said Russia had the world's highest growth rate for AIDS. And UNAIDS called on donors to allocate at least $20 million over the next three years to stem the epidemic.
Fourth biggest killer worldwide
"Russia in a sense is fortunate in that AIDS is still at an early stage," Carter said.
Vadim Pokrovsky, director of the AIDS prevention centre, has said that at the current rate of growth Russia could have up to a million infected cases in two to three years.
Carter said the World Bank loan was only part of a greater effort needed on many fronts to help tackle the problem of AIDS and HIV.
"The idea is that we will support a number of programs -- firstly educational programs, several preventative programs amongst drug users, commercial sex workers and the prison population, which are particularly vulnerable groups," he said, adding that curative work would also be included.
"We also hope that this will be the first in a number of programmes in the region ... for example we are working on a similar project in Ukraine," Carter said.
AIDS is the fourth biggest killer worldwide. About 18.8 million people have died since 1983, including 2.8 million last year, UNAIDS says. Nearly twice as many -- 34.3 million -- are living with HIV.
CNN.com - Health: AIDS
UNAIDS The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS
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