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Global Report: AIDS at a Crossroads

38.6 Million People Worldwide Living With HIV in 2005, Says United Nations
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 31, 2006 -- The world's response to AIDS is at a crossroads, according to a new report from the United Nations.

In its 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, the U.N. notes that at the end of 2005, there were 38.6 million people worldwide living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The report notes "important progress" and "significant weaknesses" in how the world has responded to HIV and AIDS.

The "progress" includes more people living longer with HIV -- when they have access to antiretroviral drugs. The "weaknesses" include scarce access to those drugs in many parts of the world, as well as stigma tied to HIV and AIDS.

Defining Moment

The report "shows that the world is at a defining moment in its response to the AIDS crisis," states Peter Piot, executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDSHIV/AIDS, in the report.

"Even though the pandemic and its toll are outstripping the worst predictions, for the first time ever we have the will, means, and knowledge needed to make real headway," Piot writes. He adds that "success is in sight -- but securing it will require an unprecedented response from the world for the next decades."

Piot isn't just talking about medicine. He lists gender inequality, poverty, and discrimination among the "fundamental drivers of this pandemic."

Rates Vary Worldwide

In some parts of the world, HIV rates are stabilizing. But elsewhere, HIV continues to rise.

"Overall, the HIV incidence rate (the proportion of people who have become infected with HIV) is believed to have peaked in the late 1990s and to have stabilized subsequently, not withstanding increasing incidence in several countries," states the U.N.'s report.

In a preface to the report, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan notes that it's been a quarter of a century since the first AIDS cases were reported.

"In that time, AIDS has fundamentally changed our world -- killing more than 25 million men and women, orphaning millions of children, exacerbating poverty and hunger, and, in some countries, even reversing human development altogether," Annan writes.

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