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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Aids epidemic 'still in early stages'
XIII International Aids Conference Durban
The last UNAids conference was held in Durban in 2000
An estimated 68 million people will die from Aids in the developing world over the next 18 years, a major report suggests.

The UNAids report also warns that the Aids epidemic is still in its early stages and is spreading rapidly throughout Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.

It dismisses suggestions that new infections and deaths from the disease have reached their peak.

Funeral for Aids victim in Africa
Africa has the highest Aids levels in the world
The report calls for urgent action by governments across the world to improve education and treatment services.

The report was presented at the annual session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council and is being published ahead of next week's XIV International Aids Conference in Barcelona.

It reveals that Botswana has the highest HIV infection rates in the world, with 39% of the adult population now infected. This is up from 36% five years ago.

Launch new window : Aids in Africa
Click to see Africa's growing epidemic

Similarly, infections have also increased in Zimbabwe with one in three adults now infected.

In five other African countries - Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia - at least 20% of the adult population has the disease.

Epidemic alert

But the report also warns of epidemics in highly-populated countries like China, Indonesia and those in the former Soviet Union.

Living with Aids
Sub-Saharan Africa 28.1m
South & SE Asia 6.1m
Latin America 1.4m
E Asia and Pacific 1m
North America 0.9m
Western Europe 0.56m
N Africa and Middle East 0.44m
Caribbean 0.42m
Australia and New Zealand 0.015m
The disease is spreading fastest in Russia and Eastern Europe and is moving from injecting drug users to the wider population.

In Ukraine, almost 25% of new infections occur through heterosexual contact.

Overall, an estimated 68 million will die from the disease by 2020. This compares with 20 million deaths over the past 20 years.

The report also shows that of the 6m people in the developing world in need of antiretroviral therapy, just 230,000 or 4% are receiving it.

In the West, half a million people received drug treatment last year, while 25,000 died of Aids.

However, in Africa the disease killed 2.2 million last year and just 30,000 receiving treatment.

Closing the gap

The report highlights some successes in tackling the disease.

While treatment is still limited in Africa, some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have begun to close the gap with the West.

Dr Peter Piot, executive director UNAids
Dr Peter Piot from UNAids has called for urgent action

Eleven countries in the region now have policies and laws to guarantee antiretroviral therapy to HIV-positive citizens.

The report also shows that Zambia looks set to become the second African country after Uganda to reverse the spread of the disease.

There, HIV infection in young women has fallen from 28% in 1996 to 24% in 1999.

In Uganda, overall infection rates have dropped from 8% in 1999 to 5% in 2001.

It reveals that funding to fight the disease has increased from $800m in 1998 to $3bn annually in 2001.

But it warns that at least $10bn is needed by 2005 if the disease is to be tackled effectively in poorer countries.

The report follows a study by UNICEF which showed that half of all new cases of HIV are among young people aged between 15 and 24.

There are now 40 million people living with HIV/Aids across the globe.

'Worse to come'

But Dr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAids, warned that worse may be to come.

To overcome the epidemic the international community must muster even greater political commitment, action and resources

Dr Peter Piot, UNAids

"The unprecedented destruction wrought by HIV/Aids epidemic over the past 20 years will multiply several times in the decades to come, unless the fight against this disease is dramatically expanded," he said.

"The success around the globe on preventing infection and treating those already infected, demonstrates that it is possible to make progress against HIV/Aids.

"But so far these countries are the exception and not the rule. In order to overcome the epidemic on a global scale, the international community must muster even greater political commitment, action and, above all, resources."

Dr Angus Nicoll, of the UK's Public Health Laboratory Service, said: "The report underscores the fact that we cannot afford to be complacent."

"Within western Europe, including in the UK, we estimate that there are 33,500 people living with HIV, of whom about 9,400 are thought to be undiagnosed."

Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust said: "For those countries most affected by HIV, the report paints a worrying picture of increasing rates of HIV infection, increasing poverty and increasing economic damage.

"In the UK, rising numbers of HIV diagnoses as well as big increases in rates of other sexually transmitted diseases demonstrate that we are still failing to tackle the issue of sexual health."

The BBC's Emily Buchanan
"Africa is where the vaccine is needed most"

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