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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 September, 2003, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Aids 'threatens African security'
Nairobi Aids orphans
Africa has more than 11 million Aids orphans

A senior UN official has warned that if more is not done to combat HIV/Aids then the security of African nations could be at stake, with the prospects of rising crime and more civil wars.

The comments of the UN Aids Programme director Michel Sidibe came at the opening of a major Aids conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Thousands of doctors, politicians and Aids activists have gathered for what is seen as an important opportunity for Aids experts to exchange ideas about best practice in combating the epidemic.

Mr Sidibe, painted a picture of a looming social catastrophe, says the BBC's Ishbel Matheson, in Nairobi.

African governments and the international community are beginning to understand what is required
UNAIDS report

Eleven million children have lost one or both parents to HIV/Aids and many of those, Mr Sidibe said, would either end up on the streets or become child soldiers - thus fuelling wars on an already turbulent continent.

He also predicted that Africa's security services would not be able to cope with the increased threat because they too have been seriously weakened by the epidemic.

In some places four out of every 10 soldiers are infected with the virus.

Flicker of hope

A new United Nations report, released at the start of the conference, said the Aids epidemic is the biggest challenge to improving the lives of people in Africa.

Some 15 million people are believed to have died from Aids in Africa.

But the disease can be contained with the right programmes and resources, the report said.

Facts and figures on the impact of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa

"After two hard, painful decades of experience and accumulated knowledge - much of it gained in Africa - African governments and the international community are beginning to understand what is required."

The latest update gave praise to some countries on Sunday but warned others who were floundering in the face of the rampaging pandemic.

"They now need to apply this experience and knowledge more extensively. There are key gaps in most African national responses that deserve special attention as action against Aids in Africa is brought to scale."

The main headlines in the report are as follows:

  • The biggest concern about HIV/Aids is in Southern Africa. In Botswana for example nearly 40% of the adult population is HIV positive.

  • It sounds alarm for pregnant women in southern Africa.The World Health Organisation found that more than one in five tested at the end of 2002 had the Aids virus.

  • The situation in East Africa is improving. The overall prevalence of HIV/Aids there "is slowly declining," the report said.

  • Praise was also lavished on several countries in West Africa, which has the lowest prevalence rate of Africa's subregions.

New challenge

Despite this gloomy backdrop, the report - and Mr Sidibe - did see some positive signs.

Nairobi charity run
There is growing awareness of the scale of the problem
There is more money than ever available for combating HIV/Aids and the price of anti-Aids drugs is dropping.

The challenge now is to make sure those gains help the people really in need: Africa's poor and destitute who find themselves at the sharp end of this disease, our corrspondent says.

The International Conference on Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) is held every two years.

Drugs known as anti-retrovirals do not cure HIV - the virus which causes Aids - but they can delay its progress, giving sufferers the hope of a longer life.

At present, only a tiny number of Africans have access to the drugs, but recent changes in global trade rules mean the costs have fallen dramatically.

Kenya's health ministry this week launched a programme to supply subsidised anti-retrovirals to 6,000 people infected with HIV.

On Saturday, thousands of women took part in a 10-kilometre charity run through Nairobi to raise awareness about the role of women in caring for Aids sufferers.

The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"The delegates gathering in Nairobi face a massive challenge"

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