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Global Report: AIDS at a Crossroads

38.6 Million People Worldwide Living With HIV in 2005, Says United Nations
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.

Africa Hardest Hit

"Africa remains the global epicenter of the AIDS pandemic," states the report.

The U.N. reports that HIV rates "appear to be leveling off" in sub-Saharan Africa (countries located below the Saharan Desert) but remain especially high in countries in southern Africa.

For instance, in the southern African nation of Swaziland, about one in three adults are infected with HIV. In Botswana, also located in southern Africa, nearly one in four adults -- 24% -- had HIV in 2005.

Southern African nations show "no clear signs of declining HIV prevalence," the report states.

HIV Around the World

The report includes these global statistics:

  • About 8.3 million people in Asia were living with HIV at the end of 2005.
  • 2/3 of Asians with HIV in 2005 live in India.
  • HIV continues to spread in eastern Europe and central Asia (about 1.5 million people with HIV in 2005).
  • In Latin America, 1.6 million people have HIV.

The U.N.'s report doesn't break down HIV/AIDSHIV/AIDS statistics for the U.S. According to the CDC, about 1.04 million to 1.18 million people in the U.S. were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2003, with about a quarter of them -- 24% to 27% -- undiagnosed and unaware of their HIV infection.

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