UN report reveals extent of HIV/AIDS epidemic

AFRICA: UN report reveals extent of HIV/AIDS epidemic


? ?IRIN

In some countries girls do not know enough about HIV/AIDS

JOHANNESBURG , 23 Nov 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - As the number of people living with HIV continues to rise globally, sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the worst affected region - with two-thirds of all HIV-positive people, according to a new UN report released on Tuesday.

Women and girls remain the most vulnerable group. In sub-Saharan Africa, close to 60 percent of all adults living with the virus are women, noted the UNAIDS/World Health Organisation AIDS Epidemic Update 2004.

Social taboos in many countries prevent girls and young women from accessing information about sex and sexuality, leaving them ignorant about how to protect themselves against HIV infection. In countries such as Cameroon, Lesotho, Mali and Senegal, two-thirds or more of young women surveyed did not know three HIV prevention methods.

"Reducing infection rates in women and girls is essential if AIDS is to be brought under control. Current prevention programmes are not achieving this," the report noted.

Although there were some trends towards stabilisation in HIV prevalence, there was no single "African" epidemic and it was "misleading to apply insights about the epidemic gleaned from specific parts or sub-regions to the entire sub-Saharan Africa region," the report warned.

Some urban parts of East Africa displayed "modest declines" in HIV prevalence among pregnant women, while in West and Central Africa prevalence levels had stayed more or less steady at lower levels than in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

Nevertheless, commercial sex remained the main driver of West Africa's epidemic. In Niger, adult national HIV prevalence was estimated at just over 1 percent in 2003, but a survey among sex workers in three regions found that between 9 and 38 percent of them had tested HIV-positive.

Southern Africa was the hardest hit sub-region in the world, with disturbingly high HIV figures - often exceeding 30 percent among pregnant women - recorded in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland.

According to the report, there had been "a sea-change" in the global AIDS response since 2001, with global funding increasing from about US $2.1 billion to an estimated US $6.1 billion in 2004. Access to key prevention and care services had also improved, the report added.

The number of secondary school students receiving AIDS education had nearly tripled, the annual number of voluntary counselling and testing clients had doubled, the number of women accessing services to prevent mother-to-child transmission rose by 70 percent, and the number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment increased by 56 percent.

Despite these improvements, nine out of every 10 people needing ARVs - most of them in sub-Saharan Africa - were not receiving the drugs.

"If this low level of coverage continues, five to six million people will die of AIDS in the next two years," the report warned.

To access the report: www.unaids.org

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