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Archive for Wednesday, May 31, 2006

India now has most AIDS cases; U.N. leader says disease spreading

May 31, 2006

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— India now has the largest number of AIDS infections as the spread of the disease shows no sign of letting up a quarter-century into an epidemic that has claimed 25 million lives, the U.N. reported Tuesday.

"I think we will see a further globalization of the epidemic spreading to every single corner of the planet," UNAIDS head Dr. Peter Piot told The Associated Press in an interview. The data released by UNAIDS shows that India now has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS. With an estimated 5.7 million infections, it has surpassed South Africa's 5.5 million.

But the epidemic still remains at its worst in sub-Saharan Africa, where per capita rates continue to climb in several countries. A third of adults were infected in Swaziland in 2005. By comparison, India's per capita rate is low, at 0.9 percent of its 1.02 billion people.

The 630-page UNAIDS report released Tuesday documents countries' progress and failures, and projects what must happen to keep some regions from experiencing disaster. The agency report was released a day ahead of a high-level meeting on AIDS in New York, and a week prior to the 25th anniversary of the first documented AIDS cases on June 5, 1981.

Nearly 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS.

"It won't go away one fine day, and then we wake up and say, 'Oh, AIDS is gone,"' Piot told the AP in a recent telephone interview from Geneva.

He said one of the report's most disturbing findings was how few babies are being protected against infection. Only 9 percent of pregnant women in poor countries are receiving services, such as access to drugs, to help prevent mother-to-child transmission despite a UNAIDS goal of 80 percent coverage.

Women's vulnerability to the disease continues to increase, with more than 17 million women infected worldwide - nearly half the global total - and more than three-quarters of them living in sub-Saharan Africa, the report found.

Stigma and discrimination still plague those infected worldwide, and young people's knowledge about HIV/AIDS remains low with less than 50 percent having adequate information about the disease - a far cry from the 90 percent target UNAIDS set for 2005.

Piot said the situation in sub-Saharan Africa remains dismal, where 24.5 million people were infected and home to nearly 90 percent of the world's children living with the virus.

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