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AIDS Epidemic Shows No Signs of Abating, says UN - 2003-11-25

A new report released by the U.N. AIDS program and the World Health Organization says HIV infection rates and AIDS deaths continued to climb around the world over the past 12 months.

The global AIDS epidemic shows no signs of abating.

That is the conclusion of the latest report by the joint U.N. program on AIDS and the World Heath Organization.

Timed for release a week ahead of World AIDS Day, the report paints a grim picture of the growing impact of AIDS, especially in the developing world.

The U.N. estimates that some 40 million people are now HIV-infected worldwide. The hardest hit area is sub-Saharan Africa.

The Director of the UNAIDS program, Dr. Peter Piot, says the HIV/AIDS epidemic is worst in southern Africa. "One in five adults in southern Africa are now infected with HIV," said Dr. Piot, noting that 40 percent of adults in Swaziland and Botswana are HIV-positive.

The impact on these countries, the U.N. says, is devastating, and it will be felt for decades to come.

The U.N. says all aspects of life in the highly infected countries are affected, including local economies, education and the social fabric of the society.

Assistant Director General of the WHO AIDS program, Dr. Jack Chow, says the devastating impact of AIDS cannot be overstated.

"HIV has intensified its destructive fury in sub-Saharan Africa," said Dr. Chow. "It is threatening a whole new tier of regions and countries across Asia, across Eastern Europe. It is intersecting with the forces of poverty, illiteracy, gender inequity, other medical illnesses to produce this catastrophic implosion of countries. In many meeting we talk about what needs to be done about developing countries, but these developing countries are now becoming AIDS imploding countries."

But the assessment is not all grim. Dr. Piot says combating AIDS is now on top of political agendas in many countries, and in some, like Uganda, HIV infection rates may decline, if the government program is properly implemented.

Also on the upside, Dr. Piot says more money is pouring into the poorest countries, even from the emerging economies, to contain the AIDS pandemic.