AIDS epidemic continues to soar

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A mural painted by
adolescents  in South
Africa as part of an AIDS
awareness campaign
Eleven million more people will acquire HIV in Asia by 2007, unless effective action is taken to increase HIV prevention and care, according to a new report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation.

AIDS Epidemic Update 2002 reveals that the disease infected five million people, and killed 3.1 million, in 2002. The number of people living with HIV worldwide has risen to 42 million, up from 40 million at the end of 2001.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region where the disease is most prevalent — 8.8 per cent of adults there have HIV, compared to the world average of 1.2 per cent. An estimated 3.5 million new infections occurred in Africa in 2002, and 2.4 million Africans died of the disease.

The epidemic is expanding most rapidly, however, in Eastern Europe and the Central Asian Republics. In 2002, an estimated 250,000 people living there contracted the disease, bringing the total for the region to 1.2 million. Several countries in Asia and the Pacific, including China, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, may also face huge growth in their epidemics.

“We must act now, on a much larger scale than anything we have done before, not only to assist those nations already hard-hit, but also to stop the explosive growth of AIDS in the parts of the world where the epidemic is newly emerging,” says Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS.

The report — which was released today (26 November) in advance of World AIDS Day on 1 December — identifies several successes in the fight against AIDS. For example, following awareness and prevention campaigns, the number of HIV-positive pregnant women under the age of 20 in South Africa fell to 15.4 per cent in 2001, compared to 21 per cent in 1998.

“There is strong evidence from around the world that the AIDS epidemic does yield, in some cases dramatically, to determined human intervention,” says Piot. “We can prevent 29 million new HIV infections this decade if we implement a full prevention package globally by 2005.” UNAIDS estimates that the cost of such a programme in low- and middle-income countries would be US$10.5 billion.

Link to AIDS Epidemic Update 2002

© SciDev.Net 2002

Photo credit: Gary Lewis, JHU/CCP