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Dungeons of Disease: Russian Prisons Breeding Drug-Resistant TBAired March 24, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Russian prisons have become breeding grounds for drug-resistant Tuberculosis. And as CNN medical correspondent Eileen O'Connor reports, that could have international implications.
EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An overcrowded Russian prison cell. The stench of unwashed bodies, urine is overpowering. But what isn't seen is deadly. For these cells have become incubators for Tuberculosis, seven percent of the prison population in some places is catching the disease. What treatments Russia could afford were not just inadequate, they actually made it worse.
COL. ALEXANDER YAROSHEV, MEDICAL DIR., VLADIMIR PRISONS (through translator): One of the reasons we have multi-drug resistant TB today is because we were forced to treat TB with just one drug. It was not our fault. It was our misfortune.
O'CONNOR: Velodia (ph) is in the last stages of treatment, one of those who received just one drug a prison hospital in Siberia when a multi-drug approach is what he needed. He says a strike by doctors over back pay meant many did not receive any treatment. Experts say that too contributes to the development of drug-resistant strains.
"There were no doctors from a month and a half in that TB prison hospital," he says. "Twice a week a truck came back to collect the dead bodies. At first, I was scared, then I got used to it. I just step over the dead," Velodia says, "and not feel a thing."
To ease the overcrowding leading to disease, the Russian government has agreed to an amnesty for some 300,000 prisoners. Prison doctors fear that will just transfer the disease into the civilian population.
LARISA LAPSHINA (through translator): Only one out of five prisoners with TB who were freed during the last amnesty came to register at a TB clinic.
O'CONNOR: One can infect between 15 and 20 people. With more open borders that means multi-drug resistant TB may well spread beyond Russia. The way to prevent that spread, say Russian officials, is more international cooperation, a biochip developed at Argon Laboratories in the United States looks at the DNA of the TB strain. With that information, scientist here can determine in two to four hours what drugs a patient is resistant to.
ANDRA MIRZBEKOV, RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES: If you know and monitor drug resistance, it can simplify, make it less expensive.
O'CONNOR: Such help from places like the West is the only way they say they can solve what could become everyone's problem.
Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Moscow.
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