The Guardian 14 December, 2005

HIV/AIDS: It is time to fulfil promises

Lilliam Riera

UN General Secretary Kofi Annan recognised that "it is time to fulfil promises" in relation to the battle against HIV/AIDS and he admitted that "we have to do much, much more" than what has been undertaken to date if we wish to reach the objective for 2015 to halt the spread and begin to reduce the propagation of the virus.

In his December 1, World AIDS Day message, Annan referred to certain advances and mentioned that today $8 billion is available annually for combating the virus in developing countries, which have been faced with 300 million infected over the past decade.

In 2005 the number of infected individuals rose by five million, while more than three million, including more than half a million children, died from the disease.

In 2004, a total of 39.4 million people were infected. This year the number has reached 40.3 million, making the call for everyone to join this battle all the more urgent, given that no nation is immune.

A recent UN report released for World Aids Day stated that more than half a million people in developed countries of the West are infected, but emphasised that the situation has not become as critical as that in Africa or the Caribbean because the majority of those suffering in the developed countries have access to antiretroviral treatments, a privilege that few in developing countries possess.

Africa continues being the most affected continent, with just over three million new cases. On this continent last year, there were a total of 25.4 million infected individuals who could not afford adequate medical treatment.

In Latin America, the epidemic has reached nearly 1.8 million, spreading through unprotected sex and the unsanitary use of needles for drug consumption.

Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, the second most affected region in the world per capita, 24,000 people have died this year from HIV/AIDS, according to the 2005 World Epidemiological Bulletin on AIDS by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation.

The epidemic is spreading here through heterosexual relations and commercial sex, and is aggravated by severe poverty, high unemployment, and gender inequality.

Cuba, nevertheless, is the exception in the Caribbean, due to its very low incidence of the disease –0.05 percent last year— according to UNAIDS.

Health programs based on prevention and education, strict control of blood donations and free access to antiretroviral treatment for all infected persons makes up the country's strategy to control the epidemic, given that it has not been possible to halt its transmission.

Data from the National Centre for the Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS indicate that since the initiation of the program in 1986, Cuba has registered nearly 6,700 persons testing positive for HIV, of whom 2,700 have developed AIDS and 1,300 have died.

Information published in Juventud Rebelde emphasised that the principal means of transmission on the island continues to be unprotected sex and that youth are becoming an increasingly significant factor in the propagation of this virus.

In a 1996 poll by the National Statistics Office, only 21 per cent of Cubans between the ages of 15 and 29 said that they use condoms in their sexual relations, a figure that rose to 58 per cent of those interviewed in 2004, thanks to multi-sector education campaigns.

Granma (abridged)

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