UNITED NATIONS, Jun 21 (IPS) - The United Nations pooh-poohed
Thursday the notion that the AIDS epidemic - which has killed
more than 22 million people over the past 20 years - has been
virtually contained in high-income industrial countries.
"The view that the epidemic is a thing of the past is wrong",
said a new 44-page study released by UNAIDS, the joint UN
agency leading the global fight against the deadly disease.
Of the 36 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, only
about 1.5 million are from industrial nations. "But many of
them live productively, thanks to pervasive anti-retroviral
therapy", the study added.
"However, that achievement is shadowed by the fact that
prevention efforts are stalling in most industrialised
The study, released in advance of a UN special session on AIDS
Jun 25-27, points out that in some industrial countries, a new
pattern is emerging.
The AIDS epidemic is now shifting towards poorer people -
especially ethnic minorities - who face disproportionate risks
of infection and are more likely to be missed by prevention
campaigns and deprived of access to treatment, according to the
HIV prevalence rates among injecting drug users has given cause
for alarm: 18 percent in the US city of Chicago and as high as
30 percent in parts of New York.
By contrast, needle and syringe exchange schemes in Australia
have kept prevalence rates low among injecting drug users.
In the United States, such exchange programmes are illegal
under federal law but are permitted in a limited number of
cities under municipal regulations. And, as safe sex messages
fade and complacency sets in, infection rates in some North
American cities are again rising among homosexuals.
There have also been sharp increases in sexually transmitted
diseases among homosexuals in the city of Amsterdam in the
Netherlands - "an indication that unsafe sex threatens to
become the norm again," the report stated.
According to the study, there are also signs that unsafe sex
between men might be a growing factor in the Eastern European
Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, told reporters that
the world's fastest growing AIDS epidemic is in Eastern Europe.
New epidemics have emerged in Estonia and Uzbekistan, while in
Ukraine, more that 240,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS. In
1996, only a few cities in the Russian Federation reported HIV
cases. Today, 82 of its 89 regions have registered cases.
Piot said the upcoming special session was an indication of the
new political will among the UN's 189 member states to join the
battle against AIDS.
"Twenty years have passed since the world first became aware of
AIDS. Over those 20 years, the epidemic has spread further and
its impact has been more severe than anyone could have
imagined," he said.
Piot said an effective response to AIDS requires new ways of
working together to harness the leadership of governments and
He called for new and better ways to bring public and private
interests together, on everything from access to life-saving
drugs to protecting and supporting the workforce from the
impact of the epidemic.
A major development in the fight against AIDS, he said, was the
involvement of people living with HIV. According to the study,
the HIV/AIDS epidemic flourishes amid stigma, fear and denial -
deep- seated attitudes not easily dislodged.
People living with HIV/AIDS have invariably provided the best
response to the stigma and denial. "They bring faces and voices
to the realities many would prefer to keep abstract and
distant," he added.
Next week's special session is expected to produce a draft
declaration spelling out a global strategy against the disease.
But discussions during preparatory meetings have been bogged
down on sensitive issues relating to gender, homosexuality and
Kenneth Roth of the non-governmental Human Rights Watch said
that if government censors get their way next week, the denial
and discrimination that have helped spread the disease will
He said that several delegations, including the United States,
Egypt, Libya and the Vatican, are trying to delete from the
proposed draft declaration any mention of homosexuality, sex
workers, injecting drug users and their sex partners.
"At a conference devoted to fighting AIDS, governments must not
replicate the silence and denial that have driven the spread of
the disease," Roth declared. The United States has already
rejected a proposal by the European Union and Latin American
nations for a "rights-based approach" to combating AIDS.
"But the independent voices most likely to highlight the role
of human rights abuses in the spread of HIV/AIDS have been
excluded from these deliberations," Roth added.
"Sadly, governments seem determined to shut out uncomfortable
messages, even at the risk of a less effective strategy for
fighting this deadly disease." (END/IPS/WD/HE/HD/td/aa/01)