Russia will for the first time next year devote substantial funding to a major anti-AIDS campaign, but fighting discrimination against people infected with HIV remains a formidable challenge.
AIDS has become "one of Russia's national priorities," and, in an unprecedented effort, the authorities will allocate $107 million next year and $267 million in 2007 to fight the disease, Deputy Health Minister Vladimir Starodubov said.
"But our biggest problem remains society's attitude towards people infected with HIV, and no funding can change that," Starodubov added.
The effort represents a 20-fold increase in state funding for projects to check the spread of AIDS in Russia, according to Mikhail Rukavishnikov, an official with the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Community of People Living With HIV/AIDS.
"The government's decision... Gives us hope that all of those who need treatment will have access to it," said Rukavishnikov, adding that his organisation intended to launch a media advertising campaign to thank the authorities on December 1, World AIDS Day.
Some 330,000 people carry the virus in Russia, according to official figures, but experts say the real number may be three times higher.
Apart from medical care, discrimination is a major problem in Russia where HIV infected people face fear and loathing, including from prospective employers and even doctors, making it extraordinarily difficult for them to find work and receive medical assistance, NGOs helping them say.