|Press Release WHO/66
23 November 1999
AIDS NOT LOSING MOMENTUM -
HIV HAS INFECTED 50 MILLION,
KILLED 16 MILLION,
SINCE EPIDEMIC BEGAN
In Africa HIV-positive women now outnumber infected men by 2 million.
Countries of former Soviet Union see infection rates double in just two years.
Strong prevention efforts, care programmes, find success in certain regions.
LONDON, 23 November Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, 50 million individuals worldwide have been infected with HIV, of whom more than 33 million are still alive and over 16 million have died, according to a report issued today by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The report, entitled AIDS Epidemic Update - December 1999, was released in advance of World AIDS Day, commemorated each year on 1 December. It shows that AIDS deaths reached a record 2.6 million this year and that new HIV infections continued unabated, with an estimated 5.6 million adults and children worldwide becoming infected in 1999.
"With an epidemic of this scale, every new infection adds to the ripple effect, impacting families, communities, households and increasingly, businesses and economies. AIDS has emerged as the single greatest threat to development in many countries of the world," said Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS.
"We have to ensure that health systems are capable of handling the increasing numbers of HIV-positive people who develop AIDS. De-stigmatization, access to health care and low-cost measures such as the treatment of opportunistic infections become important. WHO is working with Ministries of Health across the world to ensure that adequate facilities and resources are made available to the millions of people likely to develop AIDS in the coming years," said Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO.
AIDS develops in an HIV-positive person after years of infection, as
HIV steadily weakens the body's immune system and increases its vulnerability to
pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhoea, tumours and other illnesses. With the number of people
infected with HIV continuing to rise, the number of people falling sick and dying of AIDS
HIV-positive women now outnumber HIV-positive men in Africa
In sub-Saharan Africa still the global epicentre of the epidemic new evidence shows clearly for the first time that women infected with HIV outnumber men. "Ten years ago, it was hard to make people listen when we were saying AIDS wasn't just a man's disease," said Dr Piot. "Today, we see the evidence of the terrible burden women now carry in Africa's epidemic."
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a number of African nations suffered downward changes this year in the Human Development Index, a ranking based on levels of health, wealth and education. Almost all of the major changes in rank could be attributed to declining life expectancy as a result of AIDS.
Yet there are reasons for optimism even in this most devastated region: a number of African countries have demonstrated a much stronger commitment to fighting AIDS than ever before. "I believe we are now at a turning point in the 20-year history of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Everywhere I go, I hear the top African leaders speaking out about AIDS as the major threat to the continent's development", said Dr Piot. "This gives me grounds for hope that in the coming years, we will see stronger, more effective responses to AIDS in many more sub-Saharan African nations responses to complement the strong programmes that already exist."
Injecting drug use in former USSR fuels world's steepest HIV increases
The report further reveals that the world's steepest HIV curve in 1999 was recorded in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, where the proportion of the population living with HIV doubled between 1997 and 1999. In the larger region comprising these nations and the remainder of Central and Eastern Europe, the number of HIV-infected rose by more than a third in 1999 alone, to reach an estimated 360 000.
Strong prevention efforts, care programmes, find success in certain regions
In the report, UNAIDS and WHO also point to some countries and regions which are managing to keep down the number of new infections or improve the well-being of those already infected. For example, evidence continues to mount that the strong prevention programmes of Thailand and the Philippines have had sustained success in reducing HIV risk and lowering or stabilizing HIV rates.
"Providing care to growing numbers of HIV-positive people when health systems are already overburdened is no straightforward task. But these examples show how countries around the world can make a difference in fighting the epidemic through both prevention and care. WHO has shown how relatively inexpensive modifications and additions to health-care systems can bring major benefits to people with HIV. Everyone, and every country, can learn and benefit from these examples," said Dr Brundtland.
No room for complacency
Releasing the report, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot also urged industrialized nations to put more emphasis on HIV prevention efforts. "There is no room for complacency in any discussion of this epidemic. The threat of HIV has not diminished in any country. We have even seen evidence from North America and Western Europe suggesting that availability of life-prolonging therapies may be contributing to an erosion of safer sexual behaviour. This is tragic," Dr Piot said.
"While antiretrovirals have brought hope to many people with HIV who are fortunate enough to have access to them, they are not a panacea, and they are not available in most of the world", Dr Piot said. "The key to fighting AIDS is preventing new infections. For this more resources are needed to implement the prevention strategies we have today, and to develop new and better tools, such as microbicides and a vaccine."
Dr Brundtland added, "While prevention is the most promising strategy for managing the AIDS epidemic in the long term, we cannot lose sight of the fact that millions of people are infected today. For them, we must do a much better job of increasing access to health care and support, including inexpensive antibiotics that can add many months to the lives of people already sick with AIDS, to palliative therapies that can help increase comfort and reduce suffering, and to psychological and social support for patients and their families. WHO and UNAIDS will continue to engage the pharmaceutical industry to make new HIV-related drugs available at affordable prices for those in need."
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