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Russian population to plunge by almost 7 mln by 2016 - expert

MOSCOW, March 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's population will fall to 135 million by 2016, from the current 142.2 million, a senior sociologist said Monday.

Russia is faced with an acute demographic problem, and the government is implementing a number of programs designed to increase the birth rate and attract more migrants to alleviate the problem.

Nikolai Volodin, a deputy head of the Federal Service for the Oversight of Public Health and Social Affairs, said social upheaval, low birth rates, the proportion of families with only one child, high male mortality rates, mainly caused by accidents, and a decline in internal migration were the main reasons for the population decline.

The expert said the average life span for Russians had increased slightly from 64.9 years in 2003 to 65.3 years in 2005, but it was still far less than in Japan, the United States, China and some European countries.

Volodin added that the child population was falling each year. Children under 17 account for just 20.2% of the total population.

He also said there was an increase in infant diseases and also those during pregnancy, as well as chronic diseases in children under 14. Injuries and poisoning were also more frequent.

A total of 17% of Russian families are childless. "This is higher than the critical rate," Volodin said.

The expert said that the Russian Children program launched in 2003 had contributed to a decline in maternal and infant death rates, and child mortality of the under fours, as well as the number of abortions being carried out.

He called for high-tech diagnostic procedures and equipment to be introduced in maternity hospitals by 2010 under the program.

"Public health must become of paramount importance in the future, and the problem cannot be solved without additional funding," Volodin said.