By Paul Recer
Associated Press 11-14-97
ABIDJAN, Dec 7 (Reuters) - AIDS is much more prevalent in parts of Africa than anyone suspected and is a major block to development with traditional scourges such as malaria and tuberculosis, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) director said on Sunday.
``The signs are that the infection rate has doubled in one year in African states,'' Hiroshi Nakajima told Reuters in an interview before the opening of Africa's top conference on AIDS in Ivory Coast's commercial capital later in the day.
``AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis continue to be the three development-related diseases,'' he said.
But Nakajima, who leaves office in July 1998 after 10 years, said there were signs that government AIDS prevention programmes were starting to work.
``In Uganda the transmission rate is decreasing, so there is a certain cause for hope,'' he said.
Nakajima said WHO strategy needed to be adjusted to help cope with AIDS and other diseases which continue to strike at the economies of developing countries.
Healthcare finance, access to services and womens health would also be given more attention under a new approach.
``We will discuss that at board level and there could be an agreement by May 1998,'' said Nakajima, adding that few developing countries existed when WHO was set up in 1948.
``It will be different as it will have more emphasis on a multi-disciplinary apporach,'' he added.
The 10th International Conference on Sexually Transmitted Disease and AIDS in Africa, which runs to December 11, takes as its theme AIDS and Development.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) kills by destroying the body's immunity against disease.
Africa accounts for two-thirds of the 30.6 million people in the world infected by the HIV virus which causes the disease.
A UNAIDS project pilot study beginning in 1998 in Ivory Coast, Uganda, Chile and Vietnam aims to cut drug prices and make treatments more available.
``There is a real chance to cure mother to child transmission,'' Nakajima told a meeting on using retroviral drugs to prevent the onset of AIDS in Africans with HIV.
``In developed countries the introduction of anti-retroviral drugs in tritherapy has led to a clear reduction of the rates of death,'' he said.
``Their use has proved extremely efficient in cutting the transmission to child by their mothers,'' he added, referring to a therapy combining three drugs, including AZT.
AIDS experts have recommended use of the three drug combination therapy for adults and children whenever possible, pending final results of tests in Africa and elsewhere.
``These treatments are extremely expensive,'' said Nakajima. ``Our principle duty is to reinforce cooperation with developing countries.''
Nakajima said that even if Africa had free access to the drugs they would have to be administered very carefully to other avoid drug resistance -- a problem that has complicated the treatment of malaria.
``There is a risk of bringing about resistant strains (of HIV),'' he said, adding that patients often failed to complete courses of treatment.

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