By Daniel Schweimler
BBC News Madrid Correspondent
Sep 18, 1999
World experts in the treatment of tuberculosis
have warned that the disease in Russian prisons is a timebomb waiting to
Speaking in Madrid at the International
Conference on Lung Health, they said that unless urgent measures are taken
to stop what they call "the prison TB pump", the incidence of the disease
in Russia will keep growing and inevitably spread to the rest of the world.
The incidence of tuberculosis in Russia
has more than doubled since 1991 and a quarter of those cases are in Russian
TB breeding grounds
The conditions in these under-heated,
under-resourced, overcrowded buildings is ideal for the spread of the disease,
which is killing about 5,000 prisoners a year.
The head of Russia's prison medical
service, Colonel Alexander Conets, told delegates that thanks to a greater
openness in Russian society, they could firstly admit that there is a problem
and secondly seek help in trying to deal with it. But 100,000 prisoners
are released from Russian jails every year, many of them infected with
Lee Reichman from the National Tuberculosis
Centre in the United States said the problem would not remain confined
to Russia."Tuberculosis is an infectious disease, it spreads from person
to person," he said.
"So it must spread and it's being incubated
in Russian prisons, and unless we do something about this incubation, when
it gets out it's going to be a disaster."
Resistance spells danger
But what is also worrying health experts
is the increase of a new form of drug resistant TB which has developed
because of widespread misuse of antibiotics. This new strain of the disease
is expensive to treat and is also finding a perfect breeding-ground
in Russian jails.
A number of international organisations,
with the backing of the, World Health Organisation (Who), have launched
a pilot project in the central Russian region of Tomsk to try to deal with
this new strain of TB. It is expensive and there are fears that funding
for the project could be misused.
Hopefully the World Bank is going to
come in with a major loan, but the local problems in Russia - where there's
currently chaos and worse - will make it difficult to receive the loan
or use it properly," said Mr Reichman.
According to speakers at the conference,
there is no time to lose -the accelerating spread in Russian prisons of
HIV, the virus that can lead to Aids, will they say lead to an explosion
of TB among inmates.
The message from the Madrid conference
is clear: that as we enter the new century, Western countries and international
organisations must provide the commitment and the financial resources
to address public health threats on a global scale.
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