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The Russian government has approved a five-year, $9 billion draft program to combat diseases, including HIV/AIDS

The program also aims to provide 30,000 HIV-positive people in the country with access to treatment.

According to the Federal AIDS Center, about 18,000 out of the 58,000 HIV-positive people in need of treatment have access to it, the Moscow Times reports.

Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov said that the HIV/AIDS segment of the program is an "essential step forward," adding that a few years ago, only 700 people in Russia had access to treatment.

The government also needs to provide information about prevention and treatment services to the Russian public, Mikhail Rukavishikov, head of the Society of People Living With HIV, said (Osadchuck, Moscow Times, 2/26).

According to the state statistics agency, Russia's population in 2006 decreased by more than 560,000 people and was recorded at 142.2 million -- a new post-Soviet era low (AP/Guardian, 2/23).

In addition, deaths outnumber births by at least 50% in many parts of the country

According to an unnamed health ministry official, life expectancy for men in Russia in 2005 was 58.9 years, 15 to 20 years shorter than for men in France, Japan and the U.S.

For Russian women, life expectancy was 72.3 years, four to seven years shorter than for their French, Japanese and U.S. counterparts (AP/Guardian, 2/23).

According to medical experts, the country's low life expectancy is because of unhealthy lifestyles -- including high rates of smoking and alcohol abuse -- and increasing levels of injection drug use and suicide.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS, TB and other infections have risen since the end of the Soviet era, with injection drug users, alcoholics and prisoners most affected.

Health aid groups say HIV prevalence has almost doubled in Russia since 2001

In addition, Zurabov on Thursday said one-tenth of migrant workers in Russia are living with TB, HIV/AIDS or hepatitis because of inadequate health checks

Russian and international medical experts have said that the government has not taken action to address the country's health crisis and that it has denied the extent of the issue.

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said the government aims to "tackle the problem seriously" by "providing adequate funding" for diseases, including TB and HIV/AIDS

According to Zurabov, half of the funding for the health program will come from regional budgets.

He added that Russia's provinces did not reach funding goals for the previous program, which expired in 2006.

Zurabov urged provinces to improve their performance. For the previous program, which ran from 2002 through 2006, allocations totaled roughly $750 million

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