An update on the spread of AIDS and the International AIDS Conference from health correspondent Susan Dentzer.
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As this year's International AIDS Conference opened in Barcelona this weekend, grim news awaited the 15,000 delegates in attendance. More than two decades after the first case reports of AIDS, it now appears that the pandemic is only in its earliest stages, and that the worst of its devastation lies ahead.
As of today, an estimated 40 million people around the world are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. About 13 million more have already died. But new estimates from UNAIDS, the United Nations' coordinating group on the disease, indicate that another 68 million people will die from AIDS by the year 2020. The group said the only way to avert that catastrophe was for countries to sharply increase their efforts and spending on prevention and treatment.
As protesters pushed yesterday to give developing countries more access to anti-AIDS drugs, UNAIDS officials said the new projections far exceed earlier estimates. The worst damage is in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 28 million people have HIV or AIDS. There were approximately 3.5 million new infections in the region in 2001.
DR. NEFF WALKER, Senior Epidemiologist, UNAIDS:
I think we had hoped that it was slowing down or being contained, but this is not the case. In Africa, which has been the hardest hit area, and even in the countries in southern Africa where prevalence is above 20 percent, it continues to rise.
As the disease takes its toll on the young and middle-aged, the average life expectancy in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa could drop to below 40 years of age by 2010. Elsewhere, HIV Infection and AIDS is spreading even faster.
In Russia and Eastern Europe, HIV is moving from drug users into the wider population. And in China, varying estimates put the HIV infection rate at anywhere from one million to as high as six million people. Although the situation in the United States pales in comparison to the global AIDS threat, officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of some disturbing trends.
Overall, the rate of new infections appears to be stable, with an estimated 40,000 Americans contracting HIV annually. But at least one study showed alarming rates among African- Americans, and especially among heterosexual black women. Another CDC study shows that more than three in four young gay and bisexual men who are infected with HIV don't know it, and are at risk of spreading the virus to their sexual partners.
DR. RONALD VALDISERRI, CESARE DE CARLO:
Americans overall and even some persons of high ongoing risk for infections don't seem to have the same sense of urgency that characterized the early years of the epidemic.
The AIDS conference will continue in Barcelona through Friday.