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AIDS Tops List of Global Health Concerns

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A new international opinion poll shows AIDS tops the list of health concerns among people in countries in all regions of the world.  The poll was conducted by UNAIDS and Zogby International before a major AIDS conference next week in Vienna.

Nearly 30 years into the AIDS epidemic, the first of its kind poll on HIV finds people everywhere rank AIDS high on the list of the most important issues facing the world.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said about half the 12,000 poll respondents are optimistic that the spread of HIV can be stopped by 2015.

"However, half of all the people surveyed say a lack of funding is an obstacle," said Sidibe.  "And, more than 70 percent say resources should go to HIV-prevention.  This highlights the importance of stopping new infections."

The AIDS pandemic appears to have stabilized in most regions, although Eastern Europe and central Asia continue to have high rates of new HIV infections.  UNAIDS officials say 57 percent of new infections in these regions are occurring among people injecting drugs.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most heavily affected region, accounting for 71 percent of all new HIV infections.

Sidibe said the worldwide response to AIDS is showing results, but the epidemic remains a serious problem.  "We estimated that in 2008, there were 33.4 million people living with HIV around the world ... and two million people died of AIDS-related illnesses," said Sidibe.

The UNAIDS/Zogby opinion poll shows one in three people consider public awareness about AIDS to be the greatest achievement of the international efforts.  This is followed by implementation of HIV prevention programs and the development of new anti-retroviral drugs.

More than half of those surveyed consider the availability of prevention services to be the most important obstacle.  Stigma and discrimination are cited as other barriers.

In another significant finding, a new UNAIDS report shows HIV prevalence among young people is dropping in many key countries around the world, especially in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Sidibe says the report shows there has been a 25-percent reduction of HIV infections in young people in 15 of the most affected countries.  They include Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

"These excellent results in this report have happened because young people are adopting safer behaviors, young people are choosing to have sex later, to have fewer partners and they are using condoms," said Sidibe.

Five million people living with HIV are receiving life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, but an additional 10 million are in need of treatment.

UNAIDS says a better, cheaper, easier to use pill could save their lives and prevent one-million new HIV infections.

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