The latest update on the HIV/AIDS epidemic was released Tuesday. The UNAIDS report says an estimated 33 million people are now living with HIV, the AIDS virus. It says in 2007, there were 2.7 million new infections, while two million people died of AIDS last year.
But there is encouraging news in the report. Karen Stanecki is a senior epidemiologist with UNAIDS. From Geneva, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the findings.
"We have seen a substantial increase in HIV prevention efforts and we are seeing that these are producing results. In some of the heavily affected countries, such as Rwanda and Zimbabwe, changes in sexual behavior have been followed by declines in the number of new infections," she says.
She compares the latest findings to those of recent years. "The number of new HIV infections has fallen in several countries. However, the AIDS epidemic is not over in any part of the world and HIV is going to require long-term response that is grounded in evidence and human rights," she says.
Why human rights? Stanecki says, "To protect people from discrimination and stigma, we want to ensure that everybody has access to the health services and prevention efforts that they need in order to protect themselves from becoming infected. So that will mean that governments will have to take a strong stand in dealing with where the epidemic is occurring. And it may be among those at most of risk populations where they're involved in illegal behaviors, but they need access to prevention programs," she says.
The UNAIDS report has some good news regarding young people. "We're seeing that they're waiting longer to become sexually active. This has been seen in seven of the most affected countries, countries such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia. For example, the percentage of young people having sex before the age of 15 has gone down from 35 percent to 14 percent in Cameroon. We're also seeing that young people are reporting having fewer partners. So the percentage of young men and women who are reported having more than one partner the last 12 months declined in ten of the most affected countries. And those countries are mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. And as well among young people, condom use is increasing for those with multiple partners," she says.
As for treatment, the UNAIDS epidemiologist says, "In low and middle income countries, we have now three million people who are on treatment. And one million alone started treatment in 2007. So, we're vastly scaling up the number of people who are on treatment."
There are also figures regarding treatment for HIV-positive women to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. "In addition to treatment for mothers for their own illness, we are also seeing increases in…mother-to-child treatment programs, with HIV-positive pregnant women receiving antiretrovirals to prevent the transmission to their children." She said those figures have increased from 14 to 33 percent.Despite the encouraging news, sub-Saharan Africa continues to bear the brunt of the epidemic, "with two thirds of all people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. And southern Africa itself is the most seriously affected, with one third of all people living with HIV in nine countries in southern Africa.