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Youth Put a Dent in AIDS Epidemic

United Nations Study Shows Behavioral Changes Among Young People May Help Improve AIDS Outlook
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

July 13, 2010 -- Younger people across the globe, including those who live in Africa and other areas hard hit by AIDS, may be helping to ease the epidemic, a new study shows.

There was a 25% reduction in HIV prevalence among 15 of the 25 countries most affected by AIDS, and this is largely due to behavior changes among younger people.

Specifically, there have been declines in HIV prevalence among youths in the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The data were reported during a UNAIDS-sponsored telebriefing that serves as a kickoff for the XVIII International Aids Conference in Vienna. UNAIDS is a joint United Nations program aimed at improving access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support.

"There is a glimmer of hope that in countries where HIV/AIDS prevalence is high, young people are taking things in their own hands and watching out for themselves," says Mahesh Mahalingam, a spokesman for  UNAIDS. "Young people are changing their behavior by having sex later, using condoms if they have more than one partner, or having fewer partners."

For example, young people in 13 countries including Cameroon and Malawai are waiting longer to have sex for the first time, and younger people are having fewer sexual partners and are more likely to use condoms in 13 countries, the study showed.

"We have come a long way, but there is still so much more to go," he tells WebMD. Today, more than 5 million people are on treatment, which is 12 times more than there was six years, but the goal is to get 15 million people treated to avert 10 million deaths by 2025, he says.

A new survey also released by UNAIDS shows that individuals do think this is possible. More than 90% of people feel that AIDS is still one of the most important public health issues facing the world, and the majority believe that the epidemic can be pushed back by 2015. The new survey included information from 12,000 adults in 25 countries.

"Our main achievement is awareness of HIV, but the flip side is that just one in three people believe that the world is responding effectively to AIDS," Mahalinghan says. About 41% of countries said they thought their country was dealing effectively with HIV/AIDS, the new survey showed.

"HIV is still an epidemic to watch out for, and we must continue to invest," he says.

Future AIDS Treatment

Part of the plan involves the creation of a "dream" pill, explains Bernhard Schwartlander, director for evidence strategy and results in the UNAIDS Program Branch, in a conference call.

A combination pill would simplify the current treatment regimen, improving access to care, he says.

"We already do have drugs that, if used in different combinations, could get us closer to an ideal pill that is resistance proof, and highly efficient, but further clinical studies are needed and will take another year or two," he says. "It will not be available tomorrow even though individual substances may be here," he explains. HIV drug resistance occurs when the virus changes so that a drug is no longer effective against HIV.

"A fixed-dose combination pill may be more expensive, but prices will go down because you will not need hospital stays, so the initial treatment will be cheaper and scaling up treatment will have a significant prevention dividend," adds Paul DeLay, the deputy executive director of UNAIDS.

The group also called for more funding. In 2010, $26.8 billion will be required to make all of this happen.

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