Health Officials React to UNAIDS/WHO Report Showing Nearly 40M People Worldwide Living With HIV/AIDS
Health officials on Tuesday reacted to a report from UNAIDS and the World Health Organization showing that the number of people living with HIV/AIDS over the past two years has increased and that the worldwide total now stands at nearly 40 million, the New York Times reports (Altman, New York Times, 11/22). The report, titled "AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2006," estimates that 4.3 million new HIV infections occurred worldwide this year and that about 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses. The report compared adjusted figures from 2004, rather than from 2005, because of changes in methodology and data. According to the report, 40% of new infections among people age 15 and older occurred among people ages 15 to 24. In addition, there were 2.8 million new HIV infections in Africa in 2006, and 2.1 million people on the continent died of AIDS-related illnesses, the report said. The most evident increases in HIV incidence occurred in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with a nearly 70% increase in new infections over the past two years, according to the report (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/21). "This year's report gives us real cause for concern," UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said, adding, "The global epidemic is growing in all areas" (Engeler, AP/Houston Chronicle, 11/21).
Resurgence in Thailand, Uganda
The report also showed signs of a resurgence in the epidemic in Thailand and Uganda, two countries where the disease was believed to be on the decline (Bengali, Miami Herald, 11/22). "In Uganda, which has been previously recorded as a success story, the latest national behavioral data show increasing erratic condom use and rising numbers of men who have had sex with more than one sexual partner in the previous year," Paul De Lay, director of evaluation for UNAIDS, said. He added that the increase in HIV prevalence is being fuelled by complacency, as well as a decreased intensity of prevention programs, funding and political commitment (Chong, Los Angeles Times, 11/22). In Thailand -- which previously reduced HIV transmissions significantly through a nationwide campaign promoting condom use -- the epidemic is spreading to married women, who made up one-third of new infections last year, the report said (Brown, Washington Post, 11/22). "If you don't tackle the gender issue, how men and women relate to each other, we are going to be in deep trouble in the long run," Piot said (AP/Houston Chronicle, 11/21). The disease also is spreading among men who have sex with men, according to the report. "It should not be a surprise that the countries first to show success will be the first to have a rebound and show problems," Piot said, adding that policymakers, including himself, need to overcome complacency. Piot and other epidemiologists said they aim to determine whether the resurgence of HIV in the two countries is similar to the initial wave of the disease or whether the disease is spreading to new groups. Health officials say they also plan to determine how big a role "prevention fatigue" is playing in the rebound, the Post reports (Washington Post, 11/22).
"This report reminds us that the solemn promises on AIDS made earlier this year must be taken seriously, otherwise millions more will be consigned to unnecessary death," Global AIDS Alliance Executive Director Paul Zeitz said, adding, "We are not on track to reach the goals the world has set on the response to this crisis (Global AIDS Alliance release, 11/21). According to Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Executive Director Richard Feachem, "Progress is still too slow and too limited" in the global fight against HIV/AIDS (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/22). "In a short quarter of a century, AIDS has drastically changed our world," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said (AP/Houston Chronicle, 11/21).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday reported on the report. The segment includes comments from Kevin De Cock, director of WHO's HIV/AIDS Department and De Lay (Wilson, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/21). Audio of the segment is available online.