U.N. warns global AIDS epidemic rampant

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

LONDON -- International efforts to control the spread of HIV/AIDS are failing, with more people dying from the disease this year than ever before and as many as 46 million people around the world living with the virus, said a U.N. report released Tuesday.

The worldwide epidemic killed more than 3 million people this year and infected another 5 million with human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, said UNAIDS, the U.N. agency responsible for coordinating global efforts to fight AIDS.

The report said the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa remains rampant while more recent epidemics in China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and several central Asian republics are growing.

"This year, more people became infected with HIV than any previous year before and more people then ever died from AIDS," said UNAIDS executive director Dr. Peter Piot.

The global response to the crisis has expanded significantly in recent years through more spending on anti-retroviral medication and education, UNAIDS said.

'Out of control'

"However, it is quite clear that our current global efforts remain entirely inadequate for an epidemic that is continuing to spiral out of control," Piot said. "AIDS is tightening its grip on southern Africa and threatening other regions of the world."

Kistan Shoultz, the UNAIDS coordinator in Kenya, said "most" African governments need to do more to fight AIDS.

"This requires huge resources, huge energy levels, far expanded efforts," Shoultz said in Nairobi.

Anti-retroviral treatment coverage remains dismal in sub-Saharan Africa overall and basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS remains disturbingly low in many countries, especially among women, the report said.

"This is an epidemic that at the start was a white, middle-class gay man's disease," Piot said. "Today, if you use a stereotype, the face of AIDS is a young woman from Africa."

Voluntary counseling and testing services are virtually absent in many countries and only 1 percent of pregnant women in severely affected countries have access to services aimed at preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission, the report said.

Dr. Jack Chow, who heads the World Health Organization's AIDS campaign, said WHO was focusing on its "3-by-5" initiative, which aims to deliver anti-retroviral drugs to 3 million people worldwide by the end of 2005.

Piot said there was some positive news in the report, with several countries successfully combatting the spread of the disease. For example, Uganda marked its 12th consecutive year of reduced HIV infections.

The report was released ahead of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.


On the Web:

UNAIDS: http://www.unaids.org/en/default.asp

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