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Saturday, 24 March, 2001, 02:08 GMT 03:08 UK
Russia faces TB time bomb
Prisoners exercise in the snowy yard of Nizhniy Novgorod prison in Russia
The problem is particularly bad in prisons
By Caroline Wyatt in Moscow

Health experts in Russia are warning that if the fight against tuberculosis isn't intensified, the rate could double by the year 2010.

Already, 30,000 people a year in Russia die of the disease, and it is spreading rapidly - especially in prisons, where overcrowding and lack of funding for treatment mean that between 10% and 25% of prisoners are infected.

More than two million people across Russia are registered at TB clinics that are overcrowded, where the staff can barely cope.

There is little money for treatment, and many of the patients have drug-resistant strains that are difficult to cure.

Prison problem

Many cases go undiagnosed, while in Russian prisons, tuberculosis is rampant.

But why is it such a problem here?

People have no time to pay attention to their health

Dr Nana Gvetadze
Dr Nana Gvetadze of Moscow's Central Tuberculosis Institute said that in Soviet times, the healthcare system was better funded and better able to cope.

Strict controls on movement meant outbreaks could be contained more easily.

These days, she said, poverty is also to blame for the rapid rise in cases.

"People have no time to pay attention to their health.

"Everybody tries to find a job, to work a lot, and I think that is the main problem."

Declining population

Russia, already worried about its rapidly declining population, fears that TB will become a major killer - if it hasn't already - especially of the nation's young.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
President Putin is worried about Russia's declining population
The disease is most common among the poor, especially the homeless, the malnourished and prisoners.

Overcrowding and poor nutrition in Russian jails make inmates the most vulnerable group of all.

It is believed that one in 10 prisoners has active TB - 100,000 people in all.

And when they leave jail, few seek treatment, continuing to spread the disease.

Dr Michael Pelly is a medical adviser to the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Awareness problem

It is trying to help raise general awareness of the problem in Russia, and raise money to solve it.

"One of the most important starting points is to have an adequately educated population, so they know what the disease is, what it means, and what they have to do when they get it," he said.

"If people know that TB can be cured and treatment is free and that they will get support through the course of treatment - those are very important starting points."

Raising awareness is vital.

The main difficulty in Russia remains finding the funding to deal with TB, in a country with so many pressing problems.

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See also:

28 Nov 00 | Health
Russia's Aids catastrophe growing
11 Jan 01 | Europe
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13 Jun 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
A dying population
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