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UN: AIDS Epidemic Grows, More Than 40 Million Infected

A United Nations report says nearly five million people were infected with HIV in 2005 - the highest jump since the beginning of the epidemic. But the report also has some good news: HIV infection rates decreased in some of the countries most severely affected by the disease.

The annual report of the United Nations program on HIV/AIDS says the number of people living with the disease globally is now a record 40 million, double the number of those infected a decade ago.

Releasing the report in New Delhi on Monday, UNAIDS director, Peter Piot, said the epidemic is intensifying in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the picture is also grim in several other parts of the world.

"The fastest growth is in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the countries of the former Soviet Union, where the number of people living with HIV has increased twenty-fold in less than ten years. Twenty- fold," said Dr. Piot. "Nearly two-thirds of the global total of new infections occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in South Africa. When it comes to Asia let me remind you that ten years ago, one in ten people who were newly-infected with HIV were living in Asia. Today that is one in five.

" The UNAIDS report also notes that HIV infection patterns are changing, with an increasing number of women affected. In several African countries, three quarters of all young people living with HIV are women.

Levels of knowledge about how HIV is transmitted also remain alarmingly low, according to UNAIDS, and many people in developing countries are often unaware that they are infected.

The disease killed more than three million people this year, including half a million young people under the age of 15, and the report warns that AIDS will continue to claim hundreds of thousands of lives in the coming years.

However, there is some positive news. Two African countries, Zimbabwe and Kenya, saw a decline in levels of infection. In the Caribbean, the second most affected region in the world, the spread of the disease also slowed this year.

Mr. Piot says these countries show that AIDS is a problem with a solution, and HIV prevention strategies can work.

"In all cases it is associated with a profound change in sexual behavior, less partners, later onset of first sexual intercourse and major increase in condom use. So, there is nothing new in that. There is no magic, it is always the same things that work. And I am quite confident that over the next few years we will see more progress," he explained.

The report says access to cheaper antiretroviral drugs has also improved in the last two years.

The United Nations says combating AIDS remains an immense challenge, but the global response has gained momentum and effective prevention measures can help the world beat the epidemic.