Rapidly growing numbers of HIV-infections in Russia has prompted President Vladimir Putin to order officials to do more to inform Russians about the dangers of HIV/AIDS.
Despite added funds to tackle the disease many experts say Russians have failed to take the threat seriously.
This year Russia has promised to spend $175 million on HIV/AIDS programs, up from $5 million last year.
With more than 30,000 new infections reported in the last year, medical officials have warned that a new wave of sexually-transmitted infections was now adding to earlier drug-abuse cases.
Currently there are an estimated 350,000 people who are HIV-positive in Russia but officials believe the real figure may be much higher.
Although Russia’s HIV-infection levels are no where as high as in sub-Saharan Africa, health charities are concerned that the number of infected Russians has almost doubled since 2001.
They say groups traditionally seen as being at low risk are now contracting the disease in growing numbers.
President Vladimir Putin has promised to put AIDS high on the agenda when leaders of the Group of Eight meet in Russia later this year.
According to a U.N. report in 2004 AIDS is spreading faster in eastern Europe than anywhere else and has the potential to kill 20 million Russians by the middle of the century if Moscow does not do more to fight the disease.
In Moscow in 2000, drug use caused over 80 percent of infections and heterosexual sex just 10 percent but by 2004 the proportions were nearly half and half.
In Russia the disease is often regarded as a foreign import that affects only drug abusers and prostitutes and is not widely understood.
A Russian Orthodox archbishop has reportedly told a church-run HIV treatment center in Moscow that prayer could cure HIV-positive people if “they restore harmony between soul and body”.
The Moscow City Council wants foreign AIDS charities to be banned from issuing free condoms and clean needles for injecting drugs as the actions “undermined Russians’ morality”.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD