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Almost half Russia prisoners are ill, many with HIV

Inmate sits in his cell as a warden wearing a facemask is reflected in a window in the multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) ward in a prison hospital in the Siberian city of Tomsk some 3500 km (2175 miles) east of Moscow June 4, 2008. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Almost half of inmates in Russia’s notorious prison system are ill, many infected with HIV or with tuberculosis, the country’s Federal Prison Service said late Tuesday.

Of Russia’s 846,000 prisoners, the overwhelming majority of whom are men, just under half are ill, including 55,000 infected with HIV, highlighting the country’s AIDS epidemic which Moscow blames on drug users who inject heroin from nearby Afghanistan.

On official site, the service’s deputy head Nikolai Krivolapov added that 40,000 inmates have tuberculosis, 67,500 suffer mental disorders and 15,000 have syphilis.

“The big picture remains abysmal,” Krivolapov told journalists late Tuesday, adding that the numbers have not significantly changed compared to one year ago.

Russia’s crowded, poorly-managed prison system came under scrutiny late last year when it admitted to being partly guilty for the death of jailed lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Lawyers for the 37-year-old, who was an adviser to Hermitage, once the biggest equity investment fund in Russia, said he was kept in custody illegally and not given proper medical treatment in prison despite repeated requests.

Krivolapov blamed outdated medical equipment for disease and health problems at the prisons, saying three-quarters were obsolete.

Health campaigners have also blamed Russians prisons for the emergence of drug-resistant tuberculosis in recent decades, as inmates fail to complete courses of medication.

Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Peter Graff