updated 1/12/2005 6:19:27 PM ET 2005-01-12T23:19:27

HIV/AIDS is spreading at a devastating pace in Russia, with a new study showing an estimated 1 million people infected — three times the number officially reported — U.S. and Russian experts said Wednesday.

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A recently released 90-page report by Murray Feshbach and Cristina Galvin of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars urged Russian authorities to take aggressive steps to fight the epidemic. The study was sponsored by U.S. Agency for International Development.

According to official statistics, Russia has some 300,000 HIV-positive people. But Feshbach, as well as Russian experts, said the true number is closer to 1 million. The study estimated the number of AIDS deaths in Russia at 13,000, almost three times the official figure of 4,800.

If officials ignore the problem, “the consequences will be devastating to the society, family formation, to the military, labor productivity” within two to three years, Feshbach said by telephone from Washington.

Local experts say authorities are not getting the message.

“Despite all that we have been saying and what international organizations have been saying, funding for HIV/AIDS is not being increased, but is actually being reduced because of inflation,” said Vadim Pokrovsky, the head of the Federal AIDS Center.

Pokrovsky said that the 2005 national budget envisages $4.3 million for HIV/AIDS, whereas the amount needed is nearly 40 times higher — $161.7 million.

The study also found HIV testing has dropped significantly in recent years, after the financial burden for tests was transferred from the federal to the regional budget.

The study showed that more than 80 percent of HIV/AIDS-infected Russians are under 30, compared with 70 percent in North America and Western Europe.

Pokrovsky also said the epidemic is shifting from mainly intravenous drug users to transmission through heterosexual activity.

“This past year has seen a major shift from drug users to heterosexual sex — in some regions as many as half of new infections were the result of heterosexual intercourse,” Pokrovsky said.

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