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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 10:13 GMT
UN gives Afghanistan Aids warning
By Andrew North
BBC News, Kabul

An Afghan farmer in a poppy field
Most attention is still on the export of drugs rather than local drug use
The United Nations in Afghanistan says there is an increasing risk of HIV, the virus that can lead to Aids, spreading across the country.

There are no accurate figures on the incidence of HIV or Aids here.

But the UN Population Fund said, in a statement issued in Kabul, that things could escalate out of control if measures are not taken now.

There is great concern over the virus being spread by growing numbers of drug users injecting and sharing needles.

No-one sure

The only definite figures available on HIV-Aids in Afghanistan would suggest that there is not too much to worry about.

There are just 35 HIV-positive cases identified by Kabul's blood bank.

But the reality in this still war-shattered country is that no one can be sure of the situation nation-wide.

The Health Ministry can only guess. It has little capacity to collect accurate statistics.

With an epidemic of this size a massive amount of resource needs to be poured into this area
Nicole Webb, Newbury

Even in the cities, many Afghans only have access to rudimentary medical care, so people could easily die of Aids without ever knowing they had the disease.

Public awareness of HIV-Aids and how it can be contracted is limited, especially in the rural areas.

Conditions are ripe for an increase, warns the UN, particularly because of a rise in the numbers of people injecting drugs , an activity almost always associated with a high incidence of HIV.

Usually, it is the impact of Afghanistan's illegal drugs trade abroad that gets the attention.

Its opium fields are the source for most of the world's heroin.

But the UN has recently estimated the country has almost one million drug users of its own.

About 7,000 are thought to be injecting drugs like heroin and anecdotal evidence suggests that the sharing of needles is common.

That is why the UN is backing programmes here to boost the level of awareness of HIV-Aids with posters and television and radio campaigns.

Now is the time to act, it says.

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