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AIDS Deaths on the rise - Crisis growing

Yahoo! Daily News

23rd Nov 1999

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 2.6 million people died from AIDS this year -- the highest number since the epidemic began -- and the death toll is set to rise in the new millennium, AIDS experts warned on Tuesday. UNAIDS, the UN agency charged with combating the spread of the deadly HIV virus, reported 5.6 million new infections this year, bringing the global total to 33.6 million. ``The epidemic is far from over. The crisis is actually growing,'' said Dr Peter Piot, the agency's executive director. ``Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in 1981 roughly 50 million people have become infected in the world,'' he told a news conference to launch the agency's annual update of the disease. East European and Central Asian regions had the steepest HIV curve in 1999, mainly due to intravenous drug use, according to the report produced with the World Health Organization (WHO). Sub-Saharan Africa, home to 10 percent of the world's population, now houses almost 70 percent of HIV/AIDS sufferers. Almost 20 years after the epidemic first hit, the agency predicted worse is to come unless big efforts are made to end the stigma and complacency that surround AIDS in many countries. Infected Young, Dead Young Almost half of all people with the disease were infected before they turned 25. Half will die before they reach 35. ``This age factor makes AIDS uniquely threatening to children. By the end of 1999, the epidemic had left behind a cumulative total of 11.2 million AIDS orphans, defined as those having lost their mother before reaching the age of 15,'' according to the report. If children are not being orphaned by the disease, many are infected themselves. An estimated 570,000 children are HIV-positive and more than 90 percent of them were infected by their mothers at birth or through breast feeding. Piot said that in Africa, women are worst hit by the epidemic because it is more easily transmitted from men to women and in Africa girls are generally infected younger than boys. For every 10 African men with the disease there are 12 or 13 infected women. ``Clearly, older men -- who often coerce girls into sex or buy their favors with sugar-daddy gifts -- are the main source of HIV for the teenage girls,'' the report said. The virus is expected to reduce life expectancy in southern Africa from 59 in the early 1990s to just 45 between 2005 and 2010 -- only slightly above the levels achieved in the 1950s. ``Life expectancy is going down dramatically as a result of AIDS,'' Piot added. Even in industrial countries where antiretroviral drugs have extended the lives of sufferers, the report details a new and misplaced complacency among gay men. Prevention is still the best policy. ``The disease remains fatal and information from North America and Europe suggests the decline in number of deaths due to antiretroviral therapy is tapering off.'' Despite the success of powerful drug cocktails in reducing HIV to undetectable levels, studies have confirmed what doctors had long suspected -- it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to completely eradicate the virus in patients.

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