ABUJA - Many young Africans are losing their
virginity later, having fewer sexual partners and using more
condoms -- signs that the campaign against AIDS is finally
hitting home, a world authority on the disease said on Thursday.
HIV infection rates among young people are falling in many parts
of East Africa for the first time, about five years after African
leaders took the initiative against the virus and declared it an
emergency on the world's poorest continent.
"What we are seeing is some serious behaviour change," United
Nations HIV/AIDS chief Peter Piot told Reuters in an interview at
an AIDS summit in Nigeria.
"Young people start later with their first sexual intercourse.
Also there's a reduction in number of partners and condom use has
gone up," Piot said.
"Billions of dollars have been invested, some would say poured,
into AIDS programmes in Africa and until now there were not that
many results. Now these results are coming," he added.
Young people in Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe are losing their
virginity two years later than they used to, Piot said, while the
rate of new infections is falling in East African cities.
The number of Africans receiving life-saving AIDS drugs have also
started growing fast, from a few tens of thousands five years ago
to 750,000 now.
Sub-Saharan Africa has 10 percent of the world's population, but
is home to more than 60 percent of people living with HIV -- 26
million people. Last year 3.2 million people in the region were
newly infected, and 2.4 million died of AIDS.
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Piot attributed the progress to much higher foreign donations --
mostly from the United States and the Global Fund -- a new
openness about AIDS in a continent where leaders were in denial
for years, and improving grass-roots projects.
"I am not trying to say we are there, but the glass is now half
full," he said.
Global funding in the fight against AIDS, mostly for Africa, has
quadrupled in the last four years to $8.4 billion. Life-saving
anti-retroviral drugs take the lion's share, because they are
more expensive than prevention.
"The key question for me is expanding the coverage and
sustainability. We want people who are starting treatment today
to still be alive in 30 years. Who is going to pay for that?"
Most of the AIDS drugs used in Africa are paid for by foreign
donors, which Piot said was not sustainable or desirable for
Africa in the long term.
"If I am taking anti-retrovirals and my donor stops paying for
whatever reason, I am going to die within six months. What does
that mean for the sovereignty of a country?" he said.
"In the end, as much funding as possible for treatment will have
to be taken on by governments ... It's a matter of priorities."
African governments agreed in 2001 to dedicate 15 percent of
their budgets to the health sector, but only six have so far got
close to that level.