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Russia Launches Five-Year Plan To Combat Diseases, Including TB, HIV/AIDS

The Russian government has approved a five-year, $2.9 billion draft program to combat diseases, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS//, in an effort to improve the country's life expectancy, a spokesperson announced on Thursday, AP/Guardian reports.

According to the state statistics agency, Russia's population in 2006 decreased by more than 560,000 people and was recorded at 142.2 million -- a new post-Soviet era low. In addition, deaths outnumber births by at least 50% in many parts of the country.

According to an unnamed health ministry official, life expectancy for men in Russia in 2005 was 58.9 years, 15 to 20 years shorter than for men in France, Japan and the U.S. For Russian women, life expectancy was 72.3 years, four to seven years shorter than for their French, Japanese and U.S. counterparts.

According to medical experts, the country's low life expectancy is because of unhealthy lifestyles -- including high rates of smoking and alcohol abuse -- and increasing levels of injection drug use and suicide. In addition, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, TB and other infections have risen since the end of the Soviet era, with injection drug users, alcoholics and prisoners most affected. Health aid groups say HIV prevalence has almost doubled in Russia since 2001.

In addition, Health Minister Mikhail Zurabov on Thursday said one-tenth of migrant workers in Russia are living with TB, HIV/AIDS or hepatitis because of inadequate health checks. Russian and international medical experts have said that the government has not taken action to address the country's health crisis and that it has denied the extent of the issue.

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said the government aims to "tackle the problem seriously" by "providing adequate funding" for diseases, including TB and HIV/AIDS. According to Zurabov, half of the funding for the health program will come from regional budgets. He added that Russia's provinces did
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