- LONDON (Reuters) - As the
AIDS epidemic enters its third decade the disease that has confounded scientists
has shown that it can mutate and transform itself as easily and as often
as the HIV virus that causes it. From an unknown illness afflicting gay
men in large U.S. cities in the early 1980s, AIDS has exploded into a global
epidemic that is touching all ages and social groups in rural and urban
areas in wealthy nations and decimating entire countries in sub-Saharan
- Complicated, costly cocktails of antiretroviral drugs
are keeping sufferers alive long after they would have died a decade ago.
But the disease is still claiming new victims in western countries despite
sophisticated public health campaigns and the large drug arsenals.
- Fewer people are dying of the disease in the United States
and Europe and infection rates are no longer soaring, but they are creeping
up, particularly in groups previously untouched by the disease.
- "It is a different disease now than it was 10 years
ago," said Tony Farmer, of the New York-based National Association
of People Living with AIDS.
- "You have the numbers to show that you still get
a large percentage of young gay/bisexual men but you also see that numbers
for people of colour and the young are on the rise."
- FEARS OF A RESURGENCE
- An estimated 900,000 people are living with the HIV virus
in North America and about a third of them do not know it. Western Europe
accounts for slightly more than half a million of the world's 34.3 million
people living with HIV/AIDS.
- The numbers are small compared with sub-Saharan Africa's
24.5 million or the 5.6 million people in south and southeast Asia with
the illness. But they are significant because they illustrate the persistence
of the disease in countries that have been fighting it the longest.
- "The epidemic is nowhere near over," said Farmer,
referring to the United States. "In fact the estimates are that there
is going to be a resurgence."
- Similar fears have surfaced in Europe and in Britain,
where the highest number of new infections in a decade were reported last
year. More heterosexuals than gays were also infected in Britain for the
first time since the start of the epidemic.
- "The need for this country to have a strategic approach
to HIV has never been greater," Derek Bodell, the chief executive
of Britain's National AIDS Trust, told Reuters.
- The effectiveness of anti-AIDS drugs has transformed
the disease from a death sentence into more of a chronic condition which
has produced a complacency in risky sexual behaviour among some groups
and in some governments in dealing with the disease.
- "Many people misunderstood the drugs, thinking they
were a cure when in fact they were just a way of controlling the virus
for a period of time," explained Farmer.
- "Because of that the media didn't look at HIV/AIDS
with the same eye as it used to and the public didn't consider it as the
devastating health crisis."
- In San Francisco, the proportion of gay men reporting
multiple partners and unprotected anal sex rose between 1994 and 1998,
in parallel with a steep rise in gonorrhoea.
- British cases of the sexually transmitted disease also
soared between 1998 and 1999 with a 52 percent increase in gonorrhoea among
16- to 19-year-old males.
- "There are some very worrying markers of sexual
ill health," said Nick Partridge of the Terence Higgins Trust, a London-based
- "How those flow across into HIV infections is still
debatable but it is quite clear that the work that needs to be done in
young people at greatest risk is as urgent now as it ever has been in the
epidemic," he added.
- CHANGING MESSAGES AND DEMOGRAPHICS
- The safe sex message is still important but AIDS activists
say the way it is delivered to a new generation of sexually active young
adults, who have never known a world without AIDS, has to change. _____
- Straight Sex Now Main Source Of AIDS
- By Nigel Hawkes - Science Editor http://www.the-times.co.uk/news/pages/tim/2000/07/04/timnwsnws01018.html
- More cases of HIV infection in Britain were acquired
through heterosexual rather than homosexual contact last year for the first
- Details released by Yvette Cooper, the Public Health
Minister, in a parliamentary answer show that 45 per cent of infections
reported last year were probably as a result of heterosexual contact, compared
with 42 per cent from homosexual contact.
- Public Health Laboratory Service figures show that the
trend towards heterosexual transmission has gathered pace this year. Of
cases recorded to the end of March 2000, 53 per cent were heterosexually
acquired, against 45 per cent by homosexual contact.
- These figures are the latest in a trend that has been
visible for several years. In 1997, 56 per cent of infections were thought
to be a result of homosexual contact and 32 per cent from heterosexual
contact. The number of infections from drug abuse are down.
- Of the 1,277 heterosexually acquired cases in 1999, 818
had been caught in Africa, 58 in Latin America and 56 in Asia.
- The National Aids Trust said that it was important to
remember that most cases of new infections in the UK were still among the
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