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HIV/AIDS deaths and new infections highest in 2003

HIV/AIDS deaths and new infections highest in 2003, says UNAIDS

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  • In 2003 the HIV/AIDS pandemic took the highest number of lives and produced the highest number of new infections since surveillance of the disease started, according to a new global report from the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

    Five million people became infected with HIV worldwide and 3 million died this year alone – the highest ever, says “AIDS Epidemic Update 2003,” published to mark World AIDS Day on 1 December.

    In 2002 4.8 million people contracted the disease and 2.75 million infected people died, UNAIDS said.

    Commenting on the report, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said, “It is quite clear that our current global efforts remain entirely inadequate for an epidemic that is continuing to spiral out of control.

    “AIDS is tightening its grip on southern Africa and threatening other regions of the world. 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.”

    “Effective HIV prevention programmes must be scaled up dramatically if we want a realistic chance at reducing the number of new infections,” he added.

    The UNAIDS/WHO report says surprisingly little is being done in Africa to implement even the most basic, cost-effective HIV-prevention efforts, outside of Senegal and Uganda. No national orphan programmes exist, voluntary counselling and testing are threadbare, and prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission is virtually non-existent, it says.

    About 30 per cent of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide live in southern Africa, an area that is home to just 2 per cent of the world’s population. South Africa alone is home to an estimated 5.3 million people with HIV at the end of 2002, more than any other country in the world, the report says.

    In sub-Saharan Africa overall, an estimated 26.6 million people are living with HIV, it says.

    Meanwhile, as prevalence rates in Eastern Europe and Central Asia continue to grow, a new wave of HIV epidemics is threatening China, India, Indonesia and Russia, mostly due to HIV transmission through injecting narcotics use and unsafe sex, it says.

    WHO, the convening agency for HIV care in UNAIDS, says it and its partners are developing a global strategy to make antiretroviral treatment available to 3 million people by 2005, a project known as the ‘3 by 5’ initiative.

    “The World Health Organization will unveil detailed implementation plans for ‘3 x 5’ next week, to coincide with the commemoration of World AIDS Day,” said Dr Lee Jong-Wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

    “This represents an unprecedented drive to increase the number of people receiving treatment. For ‘3 x 5’ to succeed, however, and for treatment access to increase further in the future, the international community must continue to increase its financial and logistical support.”

    A separate report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), called “Africa’s Orphaned Generations,” says AIDS has already orphaned more than 11 million African children, half of them between the ages of 10 and 14.

    “We need to move beyond feeling beleaguered to feeling outraged by the unacceptable suffering of children. We must keep parents alive, and ensure that orphans and other vulnerable children stay in school, and are protected from exploitation and abuse,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said.

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