AEGiS-Reuters: INTERVIEW-African sex lives getting healthier-AIDS chief

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INTERVIEW-African sex lives getting healthier-AIDS chief

Reuters NewMedia - May 4, 2006
Tom Ashby


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.

MORE MONEY, COMMITMENT AND PROGRAMMES

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?" Piot said.

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.


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