Russia to lose tens of millions of dollars in AIDS funding as epidemic grows
MOSCOW – Although it faces an escalating epidemic, Russia stands to lose tens of millions of dollars in international AIDS funding because the World Bank has reclassified it as an upper middle-income country, officials said Friday.Non-governmental groups that rely largely on funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria warn that the cutoff will make anti-AIDS efforts dangerously dependent on the Russian government.The global fund will disburse more than $200 million in existing funding for AIDS and tuberculosis programs in Russia between now and 2011, but it cannot issue any new grants for HIV-related efforts there as a result of the World Bank reclassification, fund spokesman Jon Liden said.”The country would need to have a large-scale epidemic in order to ask for more money,” he told The Associated Press from Geneva.Natalya Ladnaya, an employee of Russia’s government-run Federal AIDS Center, said the international aid was only to jump-start the country’s efforts against the disease.”The political support of the government does now exist, so the task has been largely achieved. Moreover, many of these grants have another four or so years to run. I don’t see anything alarming in this decision,” she said.But Yekaterina Militskaya of the AIDS Foundation East West, a Dutch-based nonprofit group that receives Global Fund financing, expressed concern.”We believe that every possible effort is required to fight AIDS at the moment,” she said.Africa is the destination of 60 percent of aid from the Global Fund, but Russia is one of the largest single recipients. The fund finances prevention programs to increase awareness and reduce transmission of HIV and AIDS, as well as to provide treatment, care and social support to people living with HIV.Russia officially has 334,000 officially registered HIV- or AIDS-infected people, but the UNAIDS agency puts the figure at nearly 900,000 and many others say the real number is likely well above 1 million, around 1 percent of the country’s population.The disease is rapidly spreading beyond the traditional risk groups – drug users, gay men and prostitutes – into the wider population through heterosexual sex, with young people particularly vulnerable.Experts warn that Russia’s decrepit health system is unable to cope and that AIDS could have a devastating impact on the already plummeting population and the economy.For the past seven years, Russia, the world’s second-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, has posted strong economic growth amid record oil prices.The Global Fund works closely with the World Bank, which classifies countries according to their income per capita.President Vladimir Putin, who is to host a summit of the Group of Eight major industrialized nations in July at which AIDS will be a dominant theme, ordered a twentyfold increase in AIDS-relating spending this year, to more than $100 million.Hundreds of activists, AIDS officials and health workers gathered in Russia this week for a major conference at which participants 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.The country’s top AIDS official, Vadim Pokrovsky, has criticized the government’s program for poor coordination, excessive bureaucracy and failing to include non-governmental organizations, which are carrying out most of the prevention and education work.”After the G-8 summit, it’s possible that this issue will return to the back burner and will no longer be so prominent,” said Alexander Pankratov of the Russian Health Care Foundation, which distributes grants from the Global Fund.Vail, Colorado
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