- MOSCOW (Reuters) - The AIDS
epidemic gripping millions worldwide spread at lightning speed in 2001,
with countries of the former Soviet bloc now facing the fastest growing
infection rate, a U.N. report said Wednesday.
- An estimated one million people in the former Soviet
Union and ex-communist Eastern Europe now carry HIV, the virus which causes
AIDS, the annual report said.
- "The number of HIV infections is rising faster in
this region than anywhere else in the world," said Peter Piot,
director of UNAIDS, the U.N. AIDS umbrella group.
- "And the epidemic is only in its early stages --
it will get worse before it gets better," he told a press
- Around the globe, AIDS has become the fourth biggest
killer -- with heart disease the first -- the report said, adding that
40 million people now carry the virus.
- "About one-third of those living with AIDS are aged
15- 24," the annual UNAIDS report said. "Most of them do not
know they carry the virus. Many millions more know nothing or too little
about HIV to protect themselves against it."
- Despite the rising infection rates elsewhere, Africa
continues to be the critical blackspot for the virus, with Africans
for almost three-quarters of all those infected with HIV or AIDS.
- The HIV virus, which is carried in the blood and other
body fluids, is passed on through sexual contact, drug- use involving
of needles and transfusions of contaminated blood.
- EPIDEMIC THREAT TO ECONOMY
- In Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Central Asian states,
the focus of this year's report, social and economic turmoil have stoked
the fast-spreading epidemic, the report said.
- "In the Ukraine one percent of the adult population
are infected, the highest in the region," Piot said. "We never
thought it could come to these levels in Europe."
- Russia and many of the Central Asian republics have seen
spiraling figures with increased use of intravenous drugs. Russia alone
has 163,000 recorded cases of HIV/AIDS, though experts say the real figure
could be up to five times higher.
- "If these trends continue, this will not only be
the cause of a lot of suffering, but it will have an economic impact,"
Piot said. "Russia already has a demographic problem."
- Frederick Lyons, head of the U.N. Development Program
in Moscow, said the wildfire spread of HIV/AIDS could weigh down Russia's
- "HIV could reverse the successful growth pattern
Russia has established for itself over the last three years," Lyons
said. "The one percent infection rates reached in the Ukraine could
be reached very rapidly in Russia...The loss in terms of skill and know-how
would become extremely serious."
- In Western Europe, as in other high-income countries,
AIDS is also on the rise, UNAIDS said, as the safe-sex message fades and
therapies that prolong lives are mistaken for cures.
- For Piot, dwindling investment in awareness campaigns
is also to blame: "It is really the price we are now paying for
investment in prevention programs."
- "In Europe it is not a matter of funding, certainly
not in Western Europe. There is no excuse," he added.
- DANGEROUS IGNORANCE
- Though campaigns have increased use of condoms, the
says millions of young African women remain dangerously ignorant about
HIV/AIDS. Figures from the U.N. children's charity UNICEF show more than
70 percent of adolescent girls in Somalia have never heard of AIDS.
- Asian nations like Cambodia and Thailand have drastically
lowered HIV rates with large-scale prevention campaigns but the region's
heavily populated countries, including China, have had a different
- The country's health ministry said 600,000 Chinese were
living with HIV/AIDS in 2000. UNAIDS said the total number could well have
exceeded one million by late 2001.
- In Latin America, heterosexual sex remains the main mode
of HIV transmission, in contrast to industrialized nations where male
contact remains the chief cause of infection.
- Some 1.8 million people live with HIV/AIDS in Latin
and the Caribbean, the second-most affected region in the world.
- AIDS is a syndrome, a combination of illnesses. HIV
the immune system and leaves the body vulnerable to life-threatening
such as tuberculosis.
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