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World failing in AIDS fight
Updated: 2004-07-07 08:42

Almost 5 million people became infected with HIV last year -- the largest number of new infections since the disease was discovered in 1981, the annual AIDS report from the United Nations said Tuesday.

The report -- compiled by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS and released Tuesday in advance of the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok -- called for expanded AIDS-prevention efforts, which it said reach just one in five people worldwide.

The face of AIDS has become increasingly female and young -- nearly half of the almost 38 million people infected with HIV worldwide are women and half are between the ages of 15 and 24, the report said.

Almost three million people died from AIDS last year, bringing to more than 20 million the number of AIDS deaths in more than two decades, the 2004 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic said.

Sub-Saharan Africa -- with just 10 percent of the world's population is home to more than 60 percent of people living with HIV -- remained the hardest-hit region. An estimated 25 million people are infected with HIV, 2.2 million in the last year, the report said.

The prevalence of HIV has remained relatively constant there, but only because three million sub-Saharans died of AIDS last year, the report said.

The infection rate is so high in the countries of eastern and southern Africa that up to 60 percent of today's 15-year-olds will not reach their 60th birthday unless there the infection rate slows, the report said. The average life expectancy in seven African countries for people born since 1995 is just 49, 13 years lower because of AIDS.

The report identified eastern Europe and Asia as the areas with the fasting-growing HIV rates and blamed injecting drug users as a primary cause.

In those regions, the number of people infected with HIV has increased more than eight times in less than a decade: from about 160,000 cases in 1995 to about 1.3 million last year, the report said.

"Strikingly, more than 80 percent of them are under the age of 30," the report said.

In Asia, an estimated 7.4 million people are infected with HIV, including 1.1 million newly infected last year, the report said. China, Indonesia and Vietnam were noted for the sharpest increases.

India -- home to 5.1 million people living with HIV -- has the highest number of any country outside of South Africa.

The number of people in the United States who are infected with HIV rose to 950,000 last year, up from 900,000 in 2001, with half of the new infections in recent years occurring among African-Americans, the report said.

In Western Europe, 580,000 people are living with HIV, up from 540,000 in 2001.

While funding for AIDS prevention and treatment has increased nearly 17-fold since 1996 -- from $300 million to $5 billion -- it is still less than half of what is needed in developing countries, the report said. It called for $12 billion in annual worldwide funding by 2005.

The report estimated that comprehensive prevention programs could prevent 29 million of the 45 million new infections projected to occur this decade.

"Prevention programs are not reaching the people who need them, especially two highly vulnerable groups -- women and young people," the report said.

The report also suggested misguided priorities in the West do not help.

"In high-income countries, treatment has been a much higher priority than prevention and as a result, there have been rises in HIV transmission for the first time in a decade," the report said.

While antiretroviral treatment has helped many HIV-positive people live longer, the U.N. report said just seven percent of people who need it in developing countries have access to it.

"Around five to six million people in developing countries will die in the next two years if they do not receive antiretroviral treatment," it said.

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