updated 11/21/2008 5:43:50 PM ET 2008-11-21T22:43:50

A top Russian anti-AIDS coordinator on Friday lambasted the government's approach to fighting HIV, saying the number of registered cases was growing 10 percent a year despite increased federal funding.

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A misguided focus on treatment instead of prevention has undermined efforts to combat AIDS, said Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the state-funded Federal AIDS Center, which is charged with coordinating efforts.

"It seems to me that we still have no national policy on fighting AIDS," Pokrovsky said. "We are running in place, and meanwhile HIV is spreading."

Each day about 130 new cases are registered in Russia, Pokrovsky said, estimating there are more than 1 million Russians infected with HIV — or almost 1 percent of the country's 142 million population — though officially Russia has registered less than half that number at 470,000.

A large number are young drug users infected by dirty needles or tainted communal drug supplies, experts say.

Refusing to acknowledge problem?
However, widespread social stigmas, misinformation and official denial mean many people remain unaware they are at risk of being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Some regional governors "have simply refused to acknowledge the problem of AIDS," Pokrovsky said. Others, assuming higher spending would make the problem go away, have done little to publicize the problem, he said.

The AIDS epidemic"Everyone needs to understand that this is a threat to the nation, and it's necessary to mobilize as one would for war," Pokrovsky said.

He urged the government to devise a clear strategy for informing citizens about HIV, and said funding would have to be used more wisely for results.

Starting in 2006, the government — enriched with oil-boom proceeds — exponentially increased funding for the battle against AIDS as part of a push to improve health care and stem Russia's population decline. The government says budget spending for HIV-related activities last year amounted to 10.7 billion rubles ($445 million) and was more than 50 times higher than in 2005.

Pokrovsky said it is spending at least 7.1 billion rubles ($270 million) on HIV/AIDS programs this year, including 5.1 billion rubles ($193 million) on drug treatments for 30,000 HIV-infected patients, but only 200 million rubles ($7.6 million) for prevention — which he called inadequate.

"This is the weakest point in our work: prevention of new cases of infection," he said. "We are doing practically nothing about this."

He said the state plans to increase spending further in coming years, but expressed concern that the deepening economic crisis could jeopardize those plans.

The money that is earmarked for prevention was often being misspent, he said, citing an example of a 100 million ruble ($3.6 million) AIDS awareness TV program that aired at 8:30 a.m. nationwide — a time when the audience was mostly pensioners and unlikely to be in any high-risk groups.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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