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UN Reports AIDS Progress But

An estimated 38.6 million people are living with HIV worldwide, the report said. Approximately 4.1 million people became newly infected with HIV, while about 2.8 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2005.
by William M. Reilly
UPI U.N. Correspondent
United Nations (UPI) Jun 01, 2006
As the AIDS pandemic enters its 25th year, a United Nations report issued this year sees important progress in HIV prevention and treatment in fighting the epidemic. However, the U.N. calls for a significant acceleration of the AIDS response it says continues to be outpaced by the disease.

UNAIDS 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic says the epidemic appears to be slowing down globally, but new infections are continuing to increase in certain regions and countries notably Eastern Europe and Southern Africa.

"It makes me think 2005 was probably the least bad year in the history of AIDS, the 25-year history," Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, told reporters Tuesday at U.N. World Headquarters in New York.

The report was released on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly 2006 High Level Meeting on AIDS, bringing world leaders to headquarters in New York from Wednesday to Friday to review progress made since the historic signing of the 2001 Declaration of Commitment, which established concrete, time-bound goals for improving the global AIDS response.

"The AIDS crisis is greater than ever, but we see results in more countries," Piot said. "On the AIDS response side, there is good news.

"We've seen important progress made by countries over the past five years with increased funding, with a decrease in new infections, particularly among young people, and with more people on treatment which signals we are beginning to see a return on the investment for AIDS funding," he continued, adding, "It's about time."

However the report made it clear AIDS remains an exceptional threat.

The response is diverse with some countries doing well on treatment but poorly on HIV prevention efforts and vice-versa. It indicates a number of significant challenges remain. Among these are the need for improved planning, sustained leadership and reliable long-term funding for the AIDS response.

An estimated 38.6 million people are living with HIV worldwide, the report said. Approximately 4.1 million people became newly infected with HIV, while about 2.8 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2005.

While the epidemic's toll remains massive, experts find reasons for optimism, as well as guidance for how to improve the AIDS response.

"We are reaching a critical mass in terms of improvements in funding, political leadership and results on the ground, from which global action against AIDS can and must be greatly accelerated," the report said. "The actions we take from here are particularly important, as we know with increasing certainty where and how HIV is moving, as well as how to slow the epidemic and reduce its impact."

It cites significant improvements in several elements of the global AIDS response.

The report shows young people and children are increasingly affected by the epidemic, and efforts to protect these and other vulnerable groups are not keeping pace with the epidemic's impact.

On HIV prevention, the report documents behavior changes including delays in first sexual experience, increasing use of condoms by young people and resulting decreases in HIV prevalence in young people in some sub-Saharan countries.

Piot also cited better data collection, which made the report the most comprehensive U.N. report yet on AIDS.

The report makes clear that on many issues and in most regions of the world greater action against the epidemic is required now, and will be required long into the future.

While Piot thinks it was a relatively good year, he said, "There is also bad news," pointing out 11,000 people everyday become infected with HIV (the AIDS virus); 8,000 people die from AIDS every day, "So, still a very dramatic epidemic."

He said, the epidemic continues to expand in many areas, "particularly in Southern Africa, the part of the world most affected ... no decreases in prevalence, continuing high spread of HIV; secondly Eastern Europe driven by injecting drug users" and thirdly, increasing prevalence in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea.

"India now has about the same number of people living with HIV as South Africa, around 5.5 million and in Latin America we see a steady increase in infections, particularly among men who have sex with men," Piot said. "The trends that we have seen in the last few years continue and that is proportionately, more and more women are becoming infected, particularly young women.

"We see a very complex epidemic, far more so than before, but to put it simply we are at a crossroads in this epidemic," he said. "Through the efforts of the past five years we have built a critical mass of resources in the AIDS response and the biggest difference with 2001 is one, we have results and two, there is far more money."

The 2001 goal to spend between $7 billion and $10 billion by the end of 2005 was "actually reached," Piot said. "I think it is too rare not to mention that what was agreed in a U.N. financial commitment was actually reached, $8.3 billion, right in the middle of that commitment. It is having an impact and we have seen it."

Source: United Press International

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