2006 AIDS Report Shows Signs of Progress

UNAIDS says HIV rates are still rising, but not as quickly as in the past. Improvement is seen in China and among young Africans. But overall progress is uneven, and some areas are regressing.

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There's cause to worry and cause to be hopeful today about HIV. A new report from the U.N. and World Health Organization shows that the disease continued to spread in 2005, but new infections took place at a slower rate. NPR's Brenda Wilson has more on the new figures.

BRENDA WILSON: It's estimated that 4.3 million more people were infected with HIV in 2005, bringing the total around the world to more than 39 million people. Dr. Paul DeLay is in charge of monitoring and evaluating the HIV AIDS epidemic for the United Nations.

Mr. PAUL DELAY: (United Nations): Over the past several years, what we've been seeing is a slowing down of the epidemic, but it is still increasing, albeit at a slower rate.

WILSON: Though more than one and a half million people in the world are being treated for HIV with anti-AIDS drugs, that's not been enough to slow mortality. The death rate was the highest it's ever been - 2.9 million people died of AIDS last year. But some prevention messages do appear to be getting through in China and among young people in Africa.

Mr. DELAY: We're seeing, as we saw last year, a decrease in risk behavior and decreasing prevalence in young people in a select set of countries - Botswana, Burundi, Kotava, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and in selected states in India.

WILSON: And Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, overall rates of infection are declining. But that was somewhat offset by disturbing trends in countries generally highlighted as success stories, Uganda and Thailand, where DeLay says complacency has grown and political commitment and funding for prevention are not what they used to be.

Mr. DELAY: In Uganda, we are measuring that there is decreasing condom use in casual, sexual encounters and increasing in casual numbers of partners. So we actually are seeing risk behavior increase and that's happening in both developing world and developed world.

WILSON: Oftentimes the increases are occurring in specific groups within countries. Among rural men in Uganda, married women in Thailand and among gay youth in Thailand and in the U.S. and Western Europe. Dr. Kevin De Cock, WHO's Director of AIDS, says one of the most unsettling occurrences is HIV infections related to injection drug use in Africa.

Dr. KEVIN DE COCK (WHO's Director of AIDS): In Kenya, particularly on the coast, in Nairobi also. In Zanzibar, in Nigeria, in Mauritius. Mauritius has got quite a severe injection drug use problem. I think an international experience has been that any place that acts as a transiting point or a production point ends up frequently with a local problem. And certainly Kenya and Nigeria have both been places where narcotics have flowed through often into Europe.

WILSON: And Russia and Ukraine, along with central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, have the fastest growing epidemic in Europe. More than 250,000 people in that region, most of them young injection drug users, are now infected with HIV, which is spreading into the general population through sex. The main lesson in all of this, these health experts say, is that countries should know their epidemic, how the virus is being transmitted and how the epidemic is changing.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

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