HIV/AIDS Surges in Eastern Europe -- Asia-Pacific Next? (News)

Article excerpt

Twenty years after physicians first spotted the immune deficiency disease that became known as AIDS, the state of the worldwide AIDS epidemic is stirring both dismay and hope, judging from the latest MIDS Epidemic Update released on 28 November by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/ AIDS (UNAIDS) and WHO.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, HIV infections are rising faster than anywhere in the world -- an estimated one million people were living with HIV/AIDS there in 2001, up from 700 000 the year before -- and "a huge epidemic may be imminent" in parts of the former Soviet Union, the UNAIDS/XVHO report says. In Asia and the Pacific, low national incidence rates hide "serious" local epidemics that could break into the general population, particularly in China, where as many as one million people may already be infected. In the US, Western Europe, Canada and Australia, complacency is replacing the safer-sex ethic "promoted so successfully for much of the 1980s and 1990s", posing the threat of resurgent epidemics.

Worldwide, an estimated five million people were newly infected with HIV in 2001 (vs 5.3 million in 2000) and an estimated 40 million people (vs 36.1 million) are believed to be living with the virus -- 70% of them in sub-Saharan Africa, the hardest-hit region.

"This is very, bad news," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO, in a 29 November statement. "But there is good news, too." On the upside is evidence that prevention programmes work, that aggressive harm-reduction efforts can restrain HIV/ AIDS outbreaks. Thailand's "well-funded, politically supported and comprehensive prevention programmes" have trimmed new HIV infections from about 140 000 annually a decade ago to about 30 000 annually today. Cambodia's campaign, too, against high-risk sexual behaviour has reduced HIV prevalence among pregnant women from 3.2% in 1997 to 2.3% in 2000, "suggesting that the country, is beginning to bring its epidemic under control".

Similar harm-reduction programmes have curtailed HIV among intravenous (IV) drug users in Poland and have posted successes even in sub-Saharan Africa. …