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Complacency about AIDS heightens risks, experts say

By Shabtai Gold Nov 28, 2008

Geneva - Asian countries, youngsters and people spoiled by the availability of medicines in the developed world are high-risk communities for HIV infection in the upcoming year, experts said ahead of World AIDS Day.

The spread of HIV in South East Asia and China 'is following patterns of the African epidemic of the 1980s,' said Mukesh Kapilla, the head of HIV/AIDS at the International Federation of the Red Cross.

'The pattern is basically the same,' he told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa. 'As a public health professional with forward thinking, we must not repeat the mistakes of Africa.'

Immediate steps, in conjunction with governments, would have to be taken to help stem the spread of the disease and offer treatment to those already infected.

The spreading to island regions recently has shown that 'no area is immune to the problem.'

On Monday, December 1 the United Nations will mark its 20th annual World AIDS Day, noting that 'fewer people are being infected with HIV and fewer people are dying from AIDS,' according to Peter Piot, the director of UNAIDS.

Part of the reason lies with the availability of lifesaving antiretroviral drugs, particularly the increased number of patients receiving the cocktails in the developing world.

Even so, for every two people who start taking treatment another five become newly infected, UNAIDS warned.

Furthermore, millions of people in need of drug treatment still have no access to medicines, or receive them late, especially in poor countries.

There are about 33 million people live with HIV and 2 million died of AIDS related complications in 2007. In that year, some 2.7 million people became infected with HIV, the UN said.

About 22 million of the HIV cases are in Africa, another 1.2 in North America and less than a million are in Western and Central Europe.

Outside of sub-Saharan Africa the most at risk people were intravenous narcotics users, men who have sex with men and sex workers.

While women account for about half of all HIV infections globally, in Sub-Saharan Africa they make up unproportionately larger segments of the HIV infected populations.

Some experts have warned about a developing lack of concern over taking protective steps in areas where drugs have changed HIV from a death sentence to a somewhat manageable disease.

'There is a certain complacency where treatment is available,' said Kapilla with the Red Cross, warning that people should never let their guard down regarding diseases that are sexually transmitted or transferred through the use of needles.

In another side to Western complacency, while rich donor countries have demanded that poorer nations report on their epidemics and responses, they have failed to do so themselves in a satisfactory manner.

A study by AIDS Accountability International, a Swedish group, found that some western European nations and the US were worse than many developing ones when it came to reporting to the UN, including on new cases.

More than half of all new HIV infections globally occur in adolescents and young adults, mostly acquired through sexual relations.

On the other hand, the global number of children dying from AIDS has begun a slow decline in recent years.

For many youngsters who have access to drugs the trouble is staying on the strict drug regimen, in part due to the lack of family support, a World Health Organization note said.

'Strategies targeting (young people's) special needs are urgently needed,' said Daniel Fitzgerald from Cornell medical school in New York. He authored a study in Haiti showing that young people take risks when it comes to HIV.

Education about the disease, letting people, especially youngsters, know what they can do to protect themselves, along with the ready availability of condoms were crucial to combating HIV.

Also, it remained vital to promote early detection and increase access to medicines for those in need, the experts agreed.


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