Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Worldwide 39.5m now have HIV

HIV rates among young urban adults have dropped in seven African countries that are finally reaping the benefit of AIDS prevention and treatment.
But the good news, contained in the United Nations' annual report on the global epidemic, was offset by troubling signs that the first African country to reverse the epidemic, Uganda, is witnessing a resurgence of infection, as is Thailand, another early success story.
Based on hundreds of national and regional surveys, the report stitches a patchwork of progress and setbacks: a successful national treatment program in Brazil and a new, aggressive response by the Chinese Government, alongside a worsening HIV epidemic in the former Soviet bloc and a new outbreak among gay men in Europe.
The pendulum swing under way in Uganda and Thailand appears to mark a new phase in the 25-year-old epidemic.
"It should not be a surprise that the countries first to show success will be the first to have a rebound and show problems," said Peter Piot, director of UNAIDS, the program run by the UN and the World Bank.
He and other epidemiologists are trying to learn whether the infection's resurgence in the two nations is a demographic copy of the first wave of AIDS or represents the spread of infection to new groups. They are also trying to learn how big a part "prevention fatigue" may be playing.
The findings make clear that vulnerable populations may differ from country to country and that entire nations may be at different stages in the epidemic.
"One of the main messages is the need of countries to know their epidemic," said Paul de Lay, the director of monitoring and evaluation at UNAIDS. "The epidemics are continuing to evolve."
The prevalence of the infection in city dwellers aged 15 to 24, who comprise a key gauge of its trajectory, has fallen by at least 25 per cent in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Botswana, Burundi, Rwanda and Ivory Coast. In Zimbabwe, Kenya, Botswana and Tanzania, the rate fell a similar amount among rural people.
Worldwide, 39.5 million people are infected with HIV, up 2.6 million from two years ago. This year, an estimated 4.3 million people will become infected and 2.9 million will die, according to the report. Two-thirds of all adults and children with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.
The number of reported HIV/AIDS cases in China has grown by nearly 30 per cent this year, state media said yesterday, warning that the virus seemed to be spreading from high-risk groups to the general public.
The reported number of cases had risen to 183,733, up from 144,089 at the end of last year.
HIV/AIDS became a major problem for China in the 1980s and 1990s when hundreds of thousands of farmers became infected through botched blood-selling schemes.
In many countries, HIV prevalence is uncertain. While figures are generally lower overall, they are still high in many areas. In Zimbabwe, 20 per cent of 15 to 49-year-olds are thought to be infected.

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