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Moscow Times
June 25, 2003
In Glimmer of Hope, Birthrate Is Growing
By Oksana Yablokova
Staff Writer

More babies were born for a fourth straight year in 2002, but a soaring death rate and an overall worsening of the population's health mean Russia's demographic situation remains bleak, officials said.

Some 1,397,000 babies were born last year, making the birthrate 9.8 newborns per 1,000 people, according to new figures from the State Statistics Committee. That is up from 8.7 newborns per 1,000 people in 2000, but far below the 13.4 per 1,000 registered in 1990, Health Ministry spokeswoman Irina Kagramanova said.

The increase in the birthrate provides a ray of hope for a country that has seen its population steadily drop over the past decade. According to the nationwide census conducted last fall, the population dwindled from 148 million in 1990 to 145 million in 2002. During a news conference Friday, President Vladimir Putin stressed that one of the most serious issues facing Russia and Europe is demographics.

Russia's death rate remains alarmingly high, and some demographic experts fear that in 50 years the population will shrink by a third. The death rate was 16.3 people for every 1,000 last year, an increase from 15.6 in 2001, according to Health Ministry statistics.

The death rate has been growing due to a high number of deaths from infectious illnesses, including tuberculosis and cardiovascular, respiratory and stomach diseases, along with low quality medical treatment, said Tatyana Maleva, head of the Independent Institute of Social Policy.

"Speaking about birth rate decline we are very much like Europe," Maleva said. "The fundamental difference between us is that the death rate is absolutely abnormal in Russia, especially among the male population, whose life expectancy has plummeted to 57 years."

This means that most Russian men do not even live long enough to reach the pension age of 60, she said.

The Health Ministry said it is seeing an overall worsening of the population's health and warns that some diseases that are rare in industrialized countries are growing to epidemic proportions. Syphilis cases, for example, are soaring to levels last seen in the aftermath of World War II.

"We had a syphilis epidemic in the 1990s and still have not gotten over it," said Olga Loseva, the chief syphilis expert at the Health Ministry's Venereology Research Institute.

Last year, 119 syphilis cases were registered for every 100,000 people, a significant drop from a peak of 277.3 per 100,000 in 1997 but still much higher than the stable average 4.9 per 100,000 seen in industrial countries, Loseva said.

She cautioned that the official numbers might be much lower than the actual numbers, saying new cases among teenagers are growing at a worrisome rate.

"The number of cases among teenagers, mainly among girls, is indeed monstrous. The rate in this age group has grown 140 times over the past 10 years," Loseva said.

She named prostitution and rape as the main factors behind the growth.

HIV and AIDS are another concern. Although not at an epidemic level, the rate has soared in recent years to 235,000 registered cases. Health officials believe, however, that up to 1.5 million people have contracted the HIV virus.

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