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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 June, 2005, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
Health warning over Russian youth
By Steven Eke
BBC News, Moscow

Child begs in Moscow in 1994
Conditions for children in Russia have worsened affecting their health
The health of Russian children and teenagers is worse than at any stage since World War II, the interior minister has said.

Rashid Nurgaliyev warned senior Moscow officials that homelessness, drug addiction, alcoholism and illiteracy threatened the country's future.

He said there were 700,000 orphans and street children, and four million teenage drug users in the country.

And he said the figures represented just the "tip of the iceberg".

Mr Nurgaliyev said the real numbers are likely to be much higher.

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

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.

Help needed

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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