US Expert Sees Drastic
Fall In Russian Population

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An American expert on Russian social trends predicted on Friday that falling birth rates coupled with an alarming rise in diseases like tuberculosis and AIDS could cut Russia's population by more than a third by 2050.
Murray Feshbach, research professor at Washington's Georgetown University and a top specialist on Russian social and environmental trends, predicted Russia's population could fall to as low as 80 million to 100 million from 146 million now.
Such a fall would have a big economic and social consequences which could undermine Russian stability, said Feshbach, who based his projections on Russian statistics as well as data from non-governmental organizations and international institutions.
Russian authorities predict the population could fall by between nine million and 17 million by the year 2016.
"There is an incredible growth in gynecological diseases and infertility," Feshbach told a news conference.
Although statistics are incomplete or inaccurate, he said there were about 450,000 new cases of syphilis in the last year, compared to some 8,000 new cases recorded in the United States, which has a population of about 260 million.
He said the Russian Central Bureau of Epidemiology predicted that by 2002 there would be two million cases of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and AIDS itself in the country.
In Moscow new cases had increased by a factor of 12 in the first half of this year over the same period in 1999, he said, adding, "the numbers are increasing supergeometrically" and would start to seriously impact on mortality rates in about a decade.
He said official Russian figures showed 108,000 new cases of tuberculosis last year, with the World Health Organisation estimating 150,000.
For comparison, he noted that there were about 18,000 new cases in the United States in 1997 and few of them died. In 1997 there were 24,777 recorded deaths from TB in Russia, he said.
He also referred to the well-publicized fears over an alarming increase in multi-drug resistant TB, saying there were 20,000 cases in Russian prisons and 10,000 outside.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control wrote in a report in August: "The incidence of tuberculosis in the Russian Federation has increased steadily from 34 per 100,000 population in 1991 to 78 per 100,000 in 1998."
World Health Organization officials have warned of a spillover into Western Europe if the TB epidemic in Russia is not checked.
Feshbach said other factors affecting the Russian population included the release of chemicals and heavy metals into the water supply and air which cause genetic and other diseases and are particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women.
The high consumption of alcohol and tobacco as well as the low-vitamin diet - with continuing bad harvests, poverty and chaos in the food distribution system - also contributed to raising mortality rates.
In the 1990s Russia took over from Hungary and Japan as having the world's leading suicide rate.
"When you weigh it up, the entire burden on that population is enormous," he said.
Looking for hopeful signs, he said it appeared the Russian authorities were beginning to get increasingly serious about tackling the issues, but he said "A large part of this is inexorable."