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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 June, 2005, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Young Russians face health crisis
By Stephen Eke
BBC News

Nine-year-old Alexy, who lives rough on the streets of Moscow
Alexy was made homeless when his alcoholic parents sold their flat
Russian children and teenagers are less healthy today than at any stage since World War II, the country's interior minister has said.

Homelessness, drugs, alcoholism and illiteracy among young Russians, threaten future development, Rashid Nurgaliyev told a Moscow conference.

Russia's improving economy is having little impact on unhealthy lifestyles and an epidemic of ill-health, he said.

Some 700,000 children are orphaned or homeless, and 4m use drugs, he added.

As high as these figures already sound, Mr Nurgaliyev said they represent just the tip of an iceberg, with the real numbers likely to be much higher.

Even more seriously, those who had become addicted were starting to use hard drugs at an ever-younger age.

Damaged country

In turn, health officials say the large number of injecting drug users is helping fuel one of the world's fastest growing rates of HIV infection.

Mr Nurgaliyev said social problems were affecting not just young people's health, but also their education.

He suggested that around two million Russian teenagers are unable to read and write - in a country that, during the Soviet years, prided itself on almost 100% literacy.

In sum, Mr Nurgaliyev said, the condition of Russian children and teenagers is comparable with that after the bloody civil war of the 1920s or World War II, when much of the country lay in ruins.

This reflects just how deep - and often, how damaging - the impact of the transformations in Russia over the last two decades has been. The minister acknowledged that the state could do little on its own to improve the situation, and called on officials to work much more closely with human rights organisations and other public bodies.

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