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Tuesday, 14 September, 1999, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Battle against Aids 'will be slow'
Aids has run rampant on the continent
Progress to halt the spread of HIV in Africa will take years rather than months, leading experts warned on Monday.

Dr Peter Piot, head of the United Nations Aids Program, told an international conference on Aids in Africa in Lusaka, Zambia, that it would be 10 years rather than six months before the disease was stemmed.

According to the World Health Organization, Aids is the continent's most deadly infectious disease.

It is estimated that thousands of people in Africa become infected with HIV every day, and that the continent is home to two-thirds of the global population of those infected with the virus.

Experts says the disease is the single biggest obstacle to economic development in Africa.

Dr Piot said it had taken five years for attitudes to Aids to change in Uganda, which was one of the first countries in Africa to be badly hit by the virus.

He said only multi-partner sexual behaviour deeply-rooted in polygamous African societies, the social stigma attached to Aids and tribal taboos such as "widow inheritance" by a male relative had only just started to change in Uganda.

Tribal chiefs and the elderly had helped change attitudes, he added.

Ibrahim Samba, head of the World Health Organization regional office for Africa told the conference, which lasts until Thursday that progress had been made in the past 10 years, but many people in the continent were still unaware of the seriousness of the Aids crisis.

John Caldwell, an Australian professor of demography, said most Africans knew the basic facts about Aids, but many refused to change their sexual habits.

At the opening session of the conference, a declaration was issued promising to make Aids and HIV issues a priority in all national development programmes.

However, not a single African head of state attended the opening ceremony.

Aids experts also criticised Western governments for failing to respond to the crisis.

Changing sexual behaviour

Several thousand delegates at conference are discussing ways of caring for those who are already HIV positive and containing the further spread of the disease.

Aids Special Report
The main strategy under discussion is changing people's sexual behaviour to protect those who are yet to be infected, and lobbying for cheaper drugs that can turn Aids from a death sentence into a chronic but survivable disease.

Since the Aids epidemic began, 34 million Africans have been infected with HIV and almost 12 million have already died.

Southern Africa is now at the epicentre of new infections. Almost a quarter of adults in Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe are HIV positive and in South Africa there are an estimated 1,500 new infections every day.

The BBC's Ishbel Matheson: "The price of failure is high"
The BBC's Greg Barrow reports from Lusaka on the issues facing the conference
See also:

02 Jul 99 | Aids
16 Jul 99 | Africa
08 Jul 99 | Aids
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