Russia must work out new approach to fighting against AIDS, officials say

Hundreds of activists, government officials and health workers, meanwhile, gathered Monday for a major AIDS conference in Russia.

The head of the Federal AIDS Center, Vadim Pokrovsky, criticized government policies - largely the responsibility of the Health Ministry - as badly coordinated. He also said they failed to include non-governmental organizations, which are carrying out most of the work of prevention and education.

Pokrovsky said 1 percent of Russia's 18-24 years old were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and that at least 100 people were infected each day in Russia. If effective measures were not taken rapidly to halt the disease's spread, he predicted Russia would suffer dire economic consequences.

Officially, Russia has roughly 350,000 people registered with HIV, but most experts believe the true number exceeds 1 million.

UNAIDS chief Peter Piot said the conference was "long overdue," and praised President Vladimir Putin's recent announcement that the government would increase AIDS-related spending 20-fold this year, to more than US$100 million (Ђ77 million).

However, he also cautioned: "This is not just a matter of money. If you don't spend the money in the right ways, you won't get results."

Alexey Bobrik of the Open Health Institute said the government was sending conflicting messages, particularly regarding the role of non-governmental organizations in combatting AIDS.

Richard Feachem, who heads the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said the Russian government was at least showing awareness of the scope of the problem.