MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's AIDS epidemic is worsening with as many as 1.3 million people infected with HIV as the virus spreads further into the heterosexual population, Russia's top AIDS specialist said on Tuesday.

Russia has registered 402,000 people with HIV, of whom 17,000 have died, but the real figure is much higher, said Vadim Pokrovsky, head of Russia's federal AIDS centre.

"Not only is the number of Russians infected with HIV rising but there is an increase in the rate at which the epidemic is spreading, so a rise in the number of newly infected," Pokrovsky told reporters.

"We have an estimate of up to 1.2 million to 1.3 million infected with HIV," he said, adding that the number of those registered as infected was rising by 8 to 10 percent a year.

The United Nations estimates 65 million people worldwide have been infected with HIV and that 25 million people have been killed by AIDS since it was first recognized in 1981.

AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Most of those infected with HIV are unaware they are carrying the virus, according to the UN.


Pokrovsky said HIV was high among Russia's intravenous drug users but that many of those newly infected were not needle users. And he warned that the virus was spreading fast into the heterosexual population.

Women made up 44 percent of 39,589 registered new infections last year, he said adding that in some cities one in ten Russian males were infected with HIV.

"Evidence of the strengthening heterosexual HIV infection is the increase in the number of women among those newly registered with HIV," Pokrovsky said.

"On average for the country, one out of every fifty males is infected with HIV but in some cities it is one in ten," he said.

Russia's northern city of St Petersburg was worst affected followed by Sverdlovsk region, greater Moscow, Samara region and Moscow, though Pokrovsky said figures for Moscow were probably much higher than the data indicated.

The United Nations said in a report published on Tuesday that HIV was higher in richer regions.

"HIV prevalence is in an inverse relationship to economic development: HIV is more widespread in 'rich' regions," the UN said in a report about Russia's regions.

Pokrovsky said overall funding for fighting AIDS in Russia was rising but that just 200 million roubles ($7.75 million) would be spent on prevention in 2007 out of a total budget of 5.3 billion roubles ($205.4 million).

"The financing is sharply rising," he said. "There is now a lot of money, but the spending is not done entirely properly."

"A very small amount of that directed to preventing the further spread of the epidemic; most of it is being used for treatment. That is good but you need prevention too," he said.