Tue, Nov 22, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Numbers of AIDS infections hit levels unseen since 1988

RAMPAGE The surge of cases in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia and Eastern Europe is outstripping efforts to contain the disease

AGENCIES , NEW DELHI AND LONDON

Almost 5 million people were infected by HIV globally this year, one of the highest jumps since the first reported case in 1981, taking the number living with the virus to a record 40.3 million, the UN said yesterday.

The 4.9 million new infections have been fueled by the epidemic's continuing rampage in sub-Saharan Africa and a spike in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the UN's UNAIDS body said in its annual report, released in New Delhi ahead of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

"Despite progress made in a small but growing number of countries, the AIDS epidemic continues to outstrip global efforts to contain it," the AIDS Epidemic Update 2005 said.

More than 3.1 million people have died this year due to AIDS including 570,000 children -- many more than the total deaths in all natural disasters since last December's tsunami.

In Asia, China and Myanmar are not doing enough to prevent the spread of AIDS, the report said, while praising Thailand as the Asian success story for bringing about a decline in the number of new HIV cases.

China had made slow progress in fulfilling a 2003 pledge to provide antiretroviral treatment to all who need it, the report warned.

"By June 2005, about 20,000 people were receiving the drugs in 28 provinces and autonomous regions," the report said.

The majority of China's cases were found in Yunnan and Henan provinces in the Guangxi autonomous region, it said.

HIV cases had been found in all 31 provinces of China, the UN's annual report said, warning that the combination of commercial sex and injecting drug use "is likely to become the main driver of China's epidemic."

China officially has an estimated 840,000 people infected with HIV, including 80,000 with full-blown AIDS. The prevalence rate is 0.1 percent.

"In Myanmar, limited prevention efforts led HIV to spread freely -- at first within the most at-risk groups and later beyond them. Consequently Myanmar had one of the most serious AIDS epidemics in the region," it said.

In contrast, Thailand offered something of a success story in the fight against AIDS.

"By 2003 the estimated national adult HIV prevalence had dropped to its lowest level ever, approximately 1.5 percent," the report said but noted that only 51 percent of Thai sex workers reported using condoms.

Indonesia and Pakistan were warned of being on the "brink" of a major epidemic.

On India, which has more than 5.13 million people living with HIV/AIDS, second only to South Africa (5.3 million), the world body said overall HIV prevalence continued to rise as it was affecting high-risk population groups.

AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first recognized in 1981, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in history.

However, for the first time, there is solid evidence that the increased efforts to combat the disease over the last five years are starting to result in drops in new infections, said UNAIDS chief Peter Piot.

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