Aids epidemic 'still in early phase'

Posted: 16 July 2002

Author Info: Source: UNAIDS, 2 July 2002UNAIDS

A new report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), released at the XIVth International AIDS Conference in Barcelona in July 2002, warns that the AIDS epidemic is still in an early phase.

HIV prevalence is climbing higher than previously believed possible in the worst-affected countries and is continuing to spread rapidly into new populations in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe, the report says.

New data in the report indicate that theories that the epidemic might level off in heavily affected countries, due to a decline in the pool of people at risk, are being disproved as the epidemic continues to expand even in countries that already had extremely high HIV prevalence.

In Botswana, the country with the highest HIV infection rates in the world, almost 39 per cent of all adults are now living with HIV, up from less than 36 per cent two years ago. In Zimbabwe, a country in which already one quarter of adults were HIV-positive in 1997, one-third were infected by the end of 2001. In five other countries, the HIV prevalence rate in adults now also exceeds 20 per cent.

UNAIDS projects that, in the absence of drastically expanded prevention and treatment efforts, 68 million people will die because of AIDS in the 45 most affected countries between 2000 and 2020, more than five times the 13 million deaths of the previous two decades of the epidemic in those countries.

In a number of southern African countries, where prevalence rates are highest, up to one-half of new mothers could die of AIDS. In South Africa alone, it is estimated that at the epidemic's peak there will be 17 times as many deaths among people aged 15-34 than there would have been without AIDS.

In China, where almost all cases of HIV/AIDS were previously transmitted through injecting drug use and unsafe blood practices, the epidemic is now spreading through heterosexual contact. Countrywide, reported HIV infections rose nearly 70 per cent in just the first six months of 2001.

Infection rates are now rising rapidly among a number of populations in Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous country, following a decade of consistently low infection rates there.

In the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe, home to the fastest growing epidemic in the world, HIV is now moving from injecting drug users into the wider population. In Ukraine, almost 25% of new infections now occur through heterosexual contact.

In parts of Western and Central Africa, where infection rates have been high but relatively steady, there is now evidence of rapidly accelerating HIV spread. In Cameroon, for example, the adult prevalence rate, which remained in the low single digits from 1988 through 1996, is now at almost 12 per cent.

Worldwide, young people are at greatest risk for infection. Approximately half of all new adult infections are among young people aged 15-24. Almost 12 million young people are now living with HIV, and about 6,000 more become infected every day.

At the same time, 14 million children living today have lost one or both parents to AIDS, and this number will continue to grow rapidly, as the number of adults dying of AIDS rises over the coming years.