UNAIDS Director Peter Piot Says HIV/AIDS Epidemic Still in the ‘Early Stages’
The HIV/AIDS pandemic is still "in its early stages," although an estimated 36 million individuals around the world are living with the disease, UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot said yesterday. "This is now, without any doubt, the largest epidemic in human history, and we are certainly not at the end of it," he said (Nessman, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/6). Piot added that unless the world acts quickly and "decisively," HIV/AIDS "could spread to countries that have so far avoided the worst of the disease." He said that the "explosion" of HIV/AIDS is an example of "how quickly a disease can spread across the globe in the newly connected world," and highlights why fighting the virus should be a global effort (Nessman, AP/Kansas City Star, 6/5). Piot stated that the spread of the virus "would depend on whether people had the will and the resources to combat it," but added that some promising signs have been seen in Africa. Piot said, "We see now for the first time in all continents, including in Africa, that particularly among the young people, also in South Africa, there is a downturn in the trend of the spread of HIV." However, he cautioned that the agency is not "sure" of this pattern and "would not call it a success," but views it as a "hope-giving trend" that HIV prevention efforts are working (Agence France-Presse, 6/6).
Crafting an International Declaration
Piot said that he hopes all governments will work to stem the spread of the epidemic, stating that HIV/AIDS has "taught the world a lesson in the devastation that can be caused when governments react too slowly." He expressed hope that the upcoming U.N. General Assembly special session dedicated to HIV/AIDS will produce a "detailed declaration of commitment signed by every country in the United Nations." Such a commitment would "need to bind countries" to implement prevention efforts, educate young people about the disease and "destroy the crushing stigma surrounding AIDS," Piot said. He added that the declaration should also address problems such as the poor health care infrastructure of some developing nations, "people's refusal to get tested for HIV" and the costs of HIV/AIDS treatment and medications. Although Piot said he hoped countries would address "the complex web of problems preventing those infected from receiving AIDS drugs," he expressed regret that the "focus" of the HIV/AIDS issue has moved to antiretrovirals, "reducing an extremely complex problem into something that is simple on paper" (AP/Kansas City Star, 6/5).