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SOUTHERN AFRICA: UNAIDS highlights poor progress in containing HIV/AIDS

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Zimbabwe's lower HIV prevalence was a positive development

JOHANNESBURG, 30 May (PLUSNEWS) - The HIV/AIDS pandemic may be slowing down globally, but in Southern Africa the outlook is still bleak, says a new UNAIDS report.

One-third of the worldwide 2005 AIDS death-toll occurred in Southern Africa and apart from Angola, HIV prevalence levels in the region were "exceptionally high".

"Globally the rate of increase is starting to flatten, but in this part of the world we don't see that taking place," said Mark Stirling, director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, during the launch of the report in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic found that an estimated 38.6 million people are living with HIV worldwide, while 4.1 million people became infected with the virus last year.

Zimbabwe's lower HIV prevalence was a positive development. Researchers attributed the decline to a substantial increase in condom use since the early 1990s, delayed sexual debut among young people, a reduced number of casual sexual partners and high mortality rates.

But there were no signs of a decrease in other parts of southern Africa. In Swaziland, HIV prevalence among pregnant women attending antenatal clinics had shot up from 4 percent in 1992 to 43 percent in 2004.

According to Stirling, the report also highlighted the ongoing feminisation of the epidemic, who pointed out that 59 percent of all HIV-positive adults in sub-Saharan Africa were women.

He acknowledged that the critical elements to mount a successful response to the pandemic were in place, but there was a need to shift from short-term "quick fix" interventions to more strategic and longer-term approach.

Nevertheless, some progress has been made: six of 11 African countries reported declines of 25 percent or more in HIV prevalence among people aged 15 to 24 in capital cities, while the level of sexual activity among young people fell in nine of 14 sub-Saharan countries.

"While this progress is notable, the HIV prevention response falls short in many areas ... An area of exceptional concern is the ongoing shortfall in care to prevent mother-to-child HIV infection, in which just nine percent of pregnant women are currently covered," the report said.

"Access to antiretroviral [ARV] treatment has expanded significantly, from 240,000 people in 2001 to 1.3 million people in low- and middle-income countries in 2005; 21 countries met or exceeded [WHO] '3 by 5' treatment targets. ARV prices dropped significantly and procurement systems have improved, as has generic drug availability," it added.

The UNAIDS report was released ahead of the UN meeting in New York from 31 May to 2 June to review progress in implementing the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, adopted by the General Assembly in 2001, and in meeting these targets. It found that many countries had failed to fulfil their pledges.

"We are well into an important phase of the global response to AIDS, in which deeds and results count more than statements or speeches," said Dr Peter Piot in a statement. "These agreed indicators of progress on AIDS cut through rhetorical responses and put results on display, so they can be reviewed, evaluated, learned from and improved upon."


Hitting the target? New study explores HIV/AIDS information needs,  1/Dec/06
HIV/AIDS threatening life expectancy - UN report,  9/Nov/06
Red Cross launches biggest ever AIDS appeal,  1/Nov/06
Emergency plan to counter deadly TB stain,  18/Oct/06
Red Cross and Red Crescent HIV/AIDS Global Alliance launches new initiative ,  11/Oct/06
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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