AIDS conference held in Moscow

Hundreds of activists, government officials and health workers gathered Monday for a major AIDS conference in Russia, which faces an exploding epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

Top international AIDS officials hailed growing funding and attention by Russia to the problem, but said the government was giving contradictory signals on its plans for fighting the disease.

UNAIDS chief Peter Piot said the conference was "long overdue," and praised President Vladimir Putin's recent announcement that the government would be increasing AIDS-related spending 20-fold this year, to more than US$100 million ( Ђ 77 million).

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

"It's not a matter of inventing new things. It's a matter of making sure that (therapies) are accessible to all who need it," he said.

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 showing awareness of the scope of the problem.

"Vigorous, proactive leadership is a critical element in the fight against HIV/AIDS," he said. "For countries to succeed, there has to be the strongest possible leadership at the top levels of government," reports the AP.

I.L.