S Africa AIDS - The Worst
Is Yet To Come


The global HIV/AIDS epidemic shows no signs of letting up, and the worst economic and social effects were still to come, UNAIDS, the joint United Nations (UN) programme on HIV/AIDS, warned yesterday.
More people than ever are affected, with about 5-million new infections and 3-million deaths from the disease this year, according to the AIDS Epidemic Update 2003 report issued by UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation.
"The world is now mounting a greater response to AIDS through individual initiatives like the US Emergency Plan on AIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, (but) our current global efforts remain entirely inadequate for an epidemic that is continuing to spiral out of control," said UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot.
The pandemic has kept its stranglehold on Africa, and is advancing into eastern Europe and central Asia. More than 95% of this year's new infections were in poor countries, with young women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa particularly hard hit. African women aged 15 to 24 were up to 2,5 times more likely to be infected with HIV than males.
With only 2% of the world's population, southern Africa is home to 30% of the estimated 40-million people with HIV/AIDS worldwide. SA has the world's single largest HIV-infected population an estimated 5,3-million HIV-positive people at the end of last year.
"Because of SA's relatively recent epidemic, and given current trends, AIDS deaths will continue to increase rapidly over the next five years in short the worst still lies ahead," says the report.
Overall HIV prevalence in many subSaharan African countries has remained roughly stable for a few years, but this is no cause for celebration, warns UNAIDS.
The stable prevalence rates hide a high rate of new infections offset by an equally high rate of AIDS deaths.
UNAIDS says many countries are not meeting the commitments they made at the UN General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS in June 2001.
"A large number of countries have no national orphan policies in place, voluntary counselling and testing coverage is threadbare, and prevention of motherto-child-transmission is virtually nonexistent," says the report.
However, UNAIDS country coordinator for SA Dr Mbulawa Mugabe says there are encouraging signs of stronger political commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS in southern Africa, most notably last week's announcement by the South African government that it was to start providing free AIDS drugs.
"This is going to be a major aspect of the global effort to put 3-million people on treatment by 2005," he said, referring to the UNAIDS target.
Central Asia and eastern Europe are facing serious new HIV epidemics, the report says, particularly China, India, Indonesia and Russia.
"Injecting drug use and sex work are so pervasive in some areas that even countries with currently low infection levels could see epidemics surge suddenly," says the report.
Despite the rise in HIV infection in this part of the world, there is little in the way of prevention activities, such as education about safe sex, or better injection techniques, warn the UN agencies.




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