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UN Official Warns of AIDS Spread

The top official of the UN's joint program to fight HIV/AIDS says AIDS prevention programs are being neglected. Peter Piot is warning of an explosion of new cases of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, if more attention is not paid to preventing the spread of the disease.

The head of UNAIDS, Peter Piot, says spending for HIV/AIDS programs in developing countries has increased from $200 million to more than $6 billion over the last eight years. Though he calls this encouraging, Dr. Piot says the big challenge is to get countries to make long-term commitments to funding to halt the spread of AIDS.

"Today, what we see often is that HIV prevention is slipping off the agenda. Among other things because it can be controversial," said Dr. Piot. "But, with five million new infections every year still going on, if that continues, treatment in itself will certainly not be affordable. When you add every year so many people to the already 40 million who are infected."

Dr. Piot says the goal is to have an HIV-free generation in the future. To try to make this happen, he says UNAIDS is increasing efforts on HIV-prevention as well as providing access to treatment. He says treatment is important because it provides hope to people and will act as an incentive for them to get tested for the disease.

HIV is spread through unsafe sex, intravenous drug injection and transfusions of contaminated blood.

Dr. Piot says UNAIDS believes a comprehensive approach works best in preventing the spread of AIDS.

"For example, for young people, postponing the age of first intercourse is not a bad thing at all," he noted. "It is something that is part of the package. Particularly, in some countries that can be for girls of 12 years or 13 years and for any standard that is not the most healthy thing to do. You need promoting reduction of partners, being faithful. And, there is a need for condom promotion."

UNAIDS chief Piot says only countries that have the political commitment to stop AIDS will succeed. In this regard, he says there have been significant breakthroughs in India and China. He says both countries were once in denial about the disease, but are now facing up to the problem.

He says there is strong political commitment in every African country to halt the spread of AIDS. But one of the main problems is that Africa generally lacks the systems and services to properly use the money available for HIV prevention and treatment programs.

But right now, he says, the biggest challenges are in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which have the fastest growing HIV-AIDS epidemics in the world. He says many of these countries are still unwilling to face the awful truth about the disease.