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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 16:33 GMT
WHO optimistic on Aids battle
A group of volunteers wearing Condom Man uniforms parade in Bangkok
Volunteers dressed as condoms spread the message
The World Health Organisation has said the world is now ready to stop the HIV/Aids epidemic in its tracks, just as experts warn that a severe shortage of condoms worldwide is fuelling a rapid increase in infection.

In a statement to mark World Aids Day, WHO head Gro Harlem Brundtland said the fight against Aids would be a long one.


The world is now ready to turn back the epidemic learning from those who have blazed a trail, scaling up best practice and confronting Aids systematically

Gro Harlem Brundtland
But, although money and access to drugs had been lacking, she said, the last year had seen world leaders declaring their determination to act.

"The world is now ready to turn back the epidemic learning from those who have blazed a trail, scaling up best practice and confronting Aids systematically," she said.

The statement came as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids said that in order to reduce HIV transmission rates significantly, up to 24 billion condoms should be made a year - three times the current estimated number produced.

Over the past year five million people became newly infected with HIV, bringing the total number of people with the virus to 40 million worldwide.

In some parts of Africa so many people are HIV-positive that average life expectancy is less than 40 years.

Ignorance

Despite this, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids - UNAids - says only 3% of Africa's sexually active population uses condoms.

Anti-AIDS activists in Calcutta
Activists are battling increasing ignorance among young people
Many governments and social marketing agencies buy condoms in bulk and hand them out for free, but UNAids says studies across several countries show that although young people are aware of HIV, most do not know that it can be caught through having unprotected sex.

The organisation says that if more people wanted condoms, manufacturers could easily increase their output.

UNAids says that only when demand doubles or even trebles from the current eight million condoms manufactured each year will this start to have a significant effect on HIV transmission rates.

That is unlikely to happen, it says, until people realise the risks of unprotected sex and drop what it calls their tremendous opposition to condoms.

Drop in funding

The BBC's Helen Sewell says international funding for HIV awareness programmes has gone down significantly over recent years.

UNAids wants to see a five-fold increase in current funding levels to educate those most at risk, and reduce the global spread of HIV.

Aids was first diagnosed in 1982 in the United States. Since then, an estimated 22 million people have died.

An estimated 40 million worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes Aids, and around 14,000 people are infected every single day worldwide.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Clare Lyons
reports on how World Aids Day has been marked throughout the world
Dr Bernard Schwartzlander, Epidemiologist
explains why there is such a big increase in the number of cases
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