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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 05:26 GMT 06:26 UK
Aids epidemic 'underestimated'
Aids demonstrations in Pretoria
The majority of those infected cannot afford HIV drugs
By science correspondent Ania Lichtarowicz

The scale of the HIV epidemic has been considerably underestimated, according to scientists from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS.

Aids figures
About 36 million people in the world have HIV
More than 25 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are HIV positive
Globally 20 million have died from the disease

Writing in the scientific journal Nature, they said that the spread of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) had exceeded all expectations since its identification 20 years ago.

They also said the disease was one of the most serious crises facing human development.

An estimated 36 million people are living with HIV worldwide. The epidemic has hit sub-Saharan Africa the hardest, with more than 25 million people HIV positive in the area.

Globally 20 million have already died. Existing HIV therapies are helping, but the great majority of those infected cannot afford them.

Medical breakthrough needed

HIV has affected primarily the young, the mobile, wealthy and better educated parts of the population, the scientists said. This meant it had a greater impact on a country's economy than other diseases.

It was estimated that by 2010 South Africa's gross domestic product would be 17% lower than if there had been no HIV epidemic, they said.

Aids patient
Aids has a greater impact on a country's economy than other diseases
Aids has also affected agriculture, household income and education, they added. Some 860,000 children lost their teachers to the disease in 1999 in sub-Saharan Africa.

The authors said that, as with all major advances with public health, medical breakthroughs as well as changes in social behaviour were needed to combat HIV and Aids.

Targeting vulnerable groups as well as making money available so everyone could receive treatment was essential.

They concluded that global, national and community initiatives needed to be co-ordinated to tackle the problem.

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04 Apr 01 | Africa
South African split over Aids
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