AIDS growth seen slowing


The rapid growth in global AIDS cases that characterized the first quarter-century of the epidemic is slowing as some regions of the world are showing evidence of bringing it under control, according to a new UNAIDS report issued yesterday.

"The epidemic seems to be slowing down," said Dr. Paul De Lay, director of evaluation for UNAIDS, the United Nations program on HIV/AIDS. "The incidence is increasing, but not at the past rate."

India, meanwhile, has surged ahead of South Africa to become the country with the most people living with the AIDS virus -- 5.7 million infections compared with South Africa's 5.5 million.

The total number of HIV cases reached an estimated 38.6 million last year, according to the report. About 4.1 million people were infected by the virus in 2005 and 2.8 million died. Those numbers were lower than comparable figures for 2004, but UNAIDS attributed the difference to more accurate reporting rather than a decline in rates.

De Lay said the continuing gains result from "a massive scale-up of prevention and treatment."

Prevention programs have proved particularly effective in Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and Haiti, said Karen Stanecki of UNAIDS, who coordinated data compilation for the 630-page report.

HIV prevalence -- the proportion of the population infected -- has dropped by more than 25 percent among people ages 15 to 24 in those areas. She attributed the declines to increased condom use, less casual sex and a delay in the beginning of sexual activity.

"This is the first time we have really seen that outside of Uganda," said Dr. Mark R. Dybul, acting U.S. global AIDS coordinator. "There has been a dramatic partner reduction among young people."

Treatment of AIDS victims in low- and middle-income families has increased significantly as a result of the U.N.'s "3 by 5" program to treat 3 million people by the end of 2005. Although the program didn't reach its goal, the number receiving anti-retroviral drugs last year was nearly 1.5 million, compared to 240,000 in 2001.

The report was issued on the eve of a U.N. conference on AIDS in New York beginning today.

Thomas H. Maugh II writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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