/ 13 August 2008

Aids epidemic slowing, says UN

The HIV/Aids epidemic appears to be slowing, as evidence emerges of more cautious sexual behaviour and improved treatment in some of the worst-hit countries of the world, according to a new United Nations study.

Signs that work on preventing the spread of HIV is bearing fruit were highlighted last week by UNAids’s two-yearly report on the state of the epidemic.

In Rwanda and Zimbabwe, it finds, fewer people appear to be getting infected, apparently as the dangers of careless sex become better understood.

In Zimbabwe a drop in infection among pregnant women, from 26% in 2002 to 18% in 2006, is being linked to reports of fewer people having casual sexual partners and fewer men paying for sex.

Condom use also appears to be increasing, and in seven badly affected countries — Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia — young people appear to be waiting longer before becoming sexually active. In Cameroon the percentage of under-15-year-olds having sex fell from 35% to 14%.

But the UN warns against complacency. Fewer people are dying — the numbers are down from 2,2-million to two million HIV-related deaths in 2007 — because drugs to suppress the virus and prevent full-blown Aids have been rolled out in Africa and Asia and three million people who would have died are now surviving.

But though new infections dropped from three million to 2,7-million last year, the rate of decline is not fast enough. As more people are infected the task of keeping patients alive will become harder and more expensive. “The global HIV epidemic cannot be reversed and gains in expanding treatment access cannot be sustained without greater progress in reducing the rate of new HIV infections,” the report says, adding that prevention efforts have lagged. —