Record 5 million people infected with HIV in 2003, U.N. report says

Fastest spread of virus noted in E. Europe, Asia

July 07, 2004|By Roni Rabin | Roni Rabin,NEWSDAY

Five million people worldwide became infected with the AIDS virus last year, more than in any previous year, according to a new UNAIDS report issued in advance of next week's biannual International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

Eastern Europe and Asia are the new hot spots, the report said: The number of HIV infections in Eastern Europe grew by 46 percent last year, to reach 1.3 million, while the number of infections in Asia rose by 17 percent to reach 7.4 million.

"We're entering the true globalization phase" of the pandemic, said Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, the United Nations' joint program on HIV/AIDS. He addressed a teleconference with reporters from London.

While the vast majority of people who are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, Piot said, "one out of every four new infections in the world occurs in Asia, and the fastest growing epidemic is happening in Eastern Europe."

In Asia, sharp increases were seen in China, Indonesia and Vietnam, where the spread is driven by intravenous drug use, prostitution and unprotected sex among gay men.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of infections has stabilized at 25 million, although the 3 million new infections kept pace with AIDS deaths. Women make up 57 percent of those in Africa with HIV, the report said.

In high-income countries, AIDS deaths have slowed, but there are signs of increased heterosexual transmission in Western Europe, the report said. In the United States, acquired immune deficiency syndrome is the leading cause of death for black women ages 25 to 34.

"This is very disturbing to see in Western countries, where money and the level of education shouldn't be a problem," Piot said.

The U.N. report estimates 38 million people worldwide are living with HIV, slightly less than the previous estimate of 40 million, a result of new methods of calculation.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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