Africa still hardest hit by HIV-AIDS, women in frontline

hiv in AfricaGENEVA (AFP) - Sub-Saharan Africa is still bearing the brunt of the
AIDS epidemic, accounting for almost two-thirds of all HIV infections and 72 percent of global AIDS deaths, the UN agency leading the battle against the disease has said.

With 24.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS, sub-Saharan Africa has 63 percent of the adults and children living with the virus worldwide, UNAIDS said in its 2006 epidemic update.

A huge and disproportionate 59 percent of sub-Saharans Africans with HIV are women, the report added Tuesday.

In 2006, 2.8 million Africans became infected, and despite substantial progress in providing life-enhancing antiretroviral drugs, 2.1 million people died -- 72 percent of the worldwide death toll.

By June this year, around one million people on the continent were receiving antiretrovirals, a tenfold increase since December 2003.

But "the sheer scale of need in this region means that a little less than one quarter (23 percent) of the estimated 4.6 million people in need of antiretroviral therapy in this region are receiving it," UNAIDS said.

Worst-hit across the region remains southern Africa, accounting for 32 percent of people infected and 34 percent of deaths.

In South Africa, as in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, the epidemic disproportionately affects women.

"Young women (15-24 years) are four times more likely to be HIV-infected than are young men: in 2005, prevalence among young women was 17 percent compared to 4.4 percent among young men," the report said.

In all, one out of nine South Africans -- 5.5 million of the more than 47 million population -- were living with HIV in 2005, 240,000 of them aged under 15.

Despite the high HIV toll, a large number of South Africans did not feel at risk, the agency said. During a national household survey in 2005, half the respondents found to be infected had reported previously that they felt at no risk of acquiring HIV.

"Approximately two million South Africans living with HIV do not know they are infected," UNAIDS added.

UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot welcomed signs of a change in the South African government's skeptical stance on HIV/AIDS, after Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka took the lead in fighting the disease.

"Let's hope that it's genuine and that it's irreversible, then we should see results," he said.

"I think it will have a very fast impact on access to treatment.

"Prevention will take a bit more time. It will be very important that there is an unambiguous message that HIV in South Africa is in the first place sexually transmitted, and people are encouraged to know their HIV status," Piot added.

In Zimbabwe, HIV prevalence has fallen, with infection levels in pregnant women dropping from 30-32 percent in the early 2000s to 24 percent in 2004. Nevertheless around one in five Zimbabwean adults is living with HIV, one of the worst rates in the world.

The world's highest prevalence was reported in Swaziland, where one out of three (33.4 percent) adults is affected.

Health officials sounded a warning about an apparent reversal in Uganda, once held up as a model for its anti-HIV/AIDS campaign, because of signs of an increase in new infections there.

"We see also that there is a behavioural change in Uganda that is not a positive one," said Piot.

"Condom use has gone down, sex with non-regular partners has gone up for women, and the age of sexual debut is going down -- these are bad indicators," he added.

In East Africa -- where prevalence rates are lower -- Kenya, Tanzania and, to a lesser extent, Rwanda are continuing to register a decline.

Burundi, where a survey showed a sharp rise among young pregnant women, was an exception.

West and Central African nations, including Africa's most populous nation Nigeria, continue to have far lower prevalence rates of about two to four percent.

source - AFP 

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This page contains a single entry by ID Admin published on November 21, 2006 10:55 PM.

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