AIDS Chief - About 99 Of
100 HIV+ Africans Don't
Know They're Infected
By Steven Swindells

DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - U.N. AIDS chief Peter Piot said Wednesday around 99 out of 100 Africans infected with HIV had no idea they were.
He warned that the fight against the AIDS epidemic had been made more difficult by the stigma of the disease, which frightened people away from getting tested. clue that they are infected,'' Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS (UNAIDS) , told Reuters in an interview.
``Why would people go for a test to find out whether they are infected if at the end of the test, the end of disclosure is only rejection, discrimination, losing their job, losing their family?''
UNAIDS estimates that by the end of last year 25.3 million people were HIV-positive in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of the global epidemic that affects more than 36 million.
Piot was speaking in South Africa which has more HIV-AIDS sufferers than any other country in the world, with close to five million people infected, or one in nine of the population, according to the government.
In the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, whose major city is Durban, one in three women attending state antenatal clinics is HIV-positive.
Only a tiny fraction of Africa's HIV-infected population can afford life-prolonging AIDS drugs and many die from the disease with little or no care, often ostracized by communities once their HIV-status became known.
United Nations human rights chief Mary Robinson told conference delegates that HIV-AIDS was the ``greatest human rights issue challenging us today.''
People who were openly tested for the disease or who sought treatment -- especially women -- risked being shunned or even murdered, Piot said. The burden also fell onto their orphaned children.
``This stigma, this shame and fear are all driving the epidemic because why would people come out and disclose they are HIV-positive?'' he said.
``There's no doubt that this HIV stigma, discrimination, exclusion makes our work much, much harder.''
``Combating stigma is essential to break the vicious cycle that links AIDS to poverty, racism and gender inequality.''
Piot released results of studies in India and Uganda that found significant levels of overt and covert discrimination against sufferers in health care systems, housing and the workplace.
Many people living with HIV-AIDS were stigmatized for ''deviant'' or ``sinful'' behavior such as sexual promiscuity and drug use.


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