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Aids epidemic slowing, says UN

The world Aids epidemic has slowed with a 20% decrease in new HIV infections over the past decade, the United Nations said.

Despite claiming that the trajectory of the epidemic has been "broken", a report released by the Geneva, Switzerland-based UNAids agency said that there were still 7,000 new infections each day, which means two people are still infected with the virus for every one starting treatment. Worldwide, the agency said, 33.3 million people were infected with HIV.

In South Africa, which has more people than any other country with the virus that causes Aids, the agency said new infections had reduced by more than 25% in the same time period. Aids has posed major challenges to the developing nation, affecting an estimated 5.7 million people - a significant chunk of the workforce - in the nation of some 50 million people.

Sheila Tlou, an Africa-based UNAids official, said that increased condom use, abstinence and improved awareness of Aids had contributed to the fall in infections in Africa. However, the report said sub-Saharan Africa, described by the World Health Organisation as the "epicentre of the epidemic", continued to be disproportionately affected by the disease, bearing almost 70% of the global HIV burden.

The report also noted the success of efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus and said it could be virtually eliminated by 2015.

"We can say with confidence and conviction that we have broken the trajectory of the Aids pandemic. Less people are becoming infected. Less people are dying," UNAids executive director Michel Sidibe said in Geneva. "At least 56 countries have stabilised or significantly slowed down the rate of HIV infection."

The report also highlighted a worrying increase in infections among young men in North America and Western Europe, which the agency believes is a consequence of fewer precautions. Cases in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia have almost tripled over the decade.

"The epidemic is far from over in North America and western Europe," Mr Sidibe said, adding that complacency had played a key role in western Europe. "We don't see any more, people dying with HIV ... A new generation are losing completely the sense of urgency for protection."

Aids-related deaths have decreased by nearly 20% in the period from 2004 to 2009, as access to treatment has expanded. UNAids said 5.2 million people in poor countries were accessing life-saving anti-retroviral drugs in 2009, compared with just 700,000 in 2004. But approximately 10 million people - double the number on treatment - are still waiting to be initiated on to the drugs.

Another factor Aids experts note is the increasing success of HIV treatments, which add to life expectancy, but also to the cost of treating patients over their lifetime.

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