A Million Africans Newly Infected with HIV This Year
by Dr. Peter Piot, UNAIDS
New figures show an estimated 3.8 million people became infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa during the year 2000, bringing the total number of people living with HIV or AIDS in the region to 25.3 million, up nearly a million from last year's figure. At the same time, 2.4 million people died in Africa of AIDS this year, up from 2.2 million in 1999, according to AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2000 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
"The AIDS situation in Africa is catastrophic," said Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, "and sub-Saharan Africa continues to head the list as the world's most affected region. One of the greatest causes for concern is that over the next few years, the epidemic is bound to get worse before it gets better.... The region faces a triple challenge: providing care for the growing population of people infected with HIV, bringing down new infections through more effective prevention, and coping with the impact of 17 million deaths on the continent."
Despite the number of new infections, certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa are showing stable or reduced infection rates. The continent registered 3.8 million new infections in 2000, compared with 4 million in 1999.
The report says the fall or stabilization of new infections may be due to two factors. First, effective prevention programs in countries like Uganda have brought down national infection rates. Second, with over one in four adults already infected in some countries, there are relatively fewer people still likely to become infected, particularly within high-risk or vulnerable population groups.
"Uganda was one of the first countries in Africa to recognize the threat posed by AIDS to development. It understood early on the importance of long-term efforts in both prevention and care," said Dr. Piot. "AIDS is a long-term emergency and commitments to slowing the epidemic require renewal over decades. As Uganda has shown, there are no short-cuts to AIDS. The sooner efforts start, the better the chances of success."
In Uganda, all sectors of society were encouraged to take action against AIDS. As a result, Ugandan HIV figures among certain populations fell significantly. "The rate of HIV infection among young girls 13 to 19 fell significantly over an eight-year period. Among teenage boys... the rate has remained roughly stable," said Michel Sidibe, UNICEF Representative. An increase in the age of first sexual experience, fewer partners, and increased condom use have all contributed to this. [The infection rate is much lower for boys because they are less likely to have partners in the older, more heavily infected age groups.]
Dr. Piot said broad social mobilization was essential to the response to AIDS. "This is not a question of government action in isolation but a question of mass, sustained action. Every church, every village, every association needs to be involved in this epidemic because every church and every village has been touched by it."
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Date posted: Dec 01, 2000