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A wave of HIV epidemics is threatening Asia and Eastern Europe, according to a report released yesterday (25 November) by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The report, AIDS Epidemic Update 2003, warns that China, India, Indonesia and Russia are at particular risk of spread of the disease due to unsafe sex and injecting drug use.

But sub-Saharan Africa remains the region that is still feeling the effects of the disease most severely, with 3 million new infections and 2.5 million deaths in the past year. Of the 42 million people living with HIV this year, more than 26 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

“AIDS is tightening its grip on Southern Africa and threatening other regions of the world,” says Peter Piot, chief executive of UNAIDS. “Today’s report warns regions experiencing newer HIV epidemics that they can either act now or pay later – as Africa is now having to pay.” 

The report, which was released in London ahead of World AIDS Day on 1 December, warns that levels of the disease are growing in areas which until recently experienced little or no HIV.

“Recent rapid increases in HIV infections in China, Indonesia and Vietnam show how suddenly an epidemic can erupt wherever significant levels of drugs injecting occur,” it says.

The report praises some successful initiatives against HIV/AIDS, such as the US government’s Emergency plan on AIDS, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.   

But Piot warns that global efforts against HIV/AIDS are inadequate “for an epidemic that continues to spiral out of control”. Effective HIV prevention programmes should be scaled up, he says, to help reduce the number of new infections. 
The WHO has been developing a global strategy to bring antiretroviral treatment to 3 million people by 2005. The strategy, commonly, known as ‘3 by 5’, will be unveiled next week.

Link to full report AIDS Epidemic Update 2003

Link to maps on the BBC website showing the global spread of HIV

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