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Wednesday, November 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Global HIV/AIDS battle losing ground, report says

Los Angeles Times

The HIV/AIDS epidemic continued to grow in all regions of the world this year and surged back in some areas where there had been declines, according to the annual AIDS report issued Tuesday by the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO).

Although the rate of growth has slowed, 2.9 million people died of AIDS in 2006, 4.3 million people were newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and 39.5 million people are living with HIV, officials said.

AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since the first case was reported in 1981, making it one of the most destructive illnesses in history.

"In a short quarter of a century, AIDS has drastically changed our world," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.

Officials were concerned by rebounds in the infection rate in regions where they thought they were making headway.

In Uganda, the significant declines in the prevalence of HIV in the 1990s have leveled off, the report said, and infection rates in rural areas and among pregnant women appeared to be rebounding.

"In Uganda, which has been previously recorded as a success story, the latest national behavioral data show increasing erratic condom use and rising numbers of men who have had sex with more than one sexual partner in the previous year," said Dr. Paul De Lay, director of evaluation for the UNAIDS program. He attributed the jump in risky behavior to a decline in the intensity of prevention programs, complacency, less funding and less political commitment.

Officials also were discouraged by a change in the shape of Thailand's epidemic. Although new infections continue to drop, a group previously thought low-risk — married women — makes up one-third of new infections, De Lay said.

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to struggle with the largest number of people living with HIV, but the "most striking" increases in new infections occurred in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, a trend that has been apparent for several years, the report said.

In this region, 270,000 people were infected in 2006, a 70 percent jump from two years ago. One-third of the new cases appeared in people 15 to 24, almost all from the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

One WHO expert said the increases in new infections in Eastern Europe, and Central Asia and East Asia are the result of injecting-drug use.

Western Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, also saw a jump in HIV rates, driven by increases among gay men, said Karen Stanecki, UNAIDS senior adviser on demographics.

Encouraging signs, however, emerged among young people in eight African countries, officials said.

The decline in HIV rates among 15- to 24-year-olds has been most significant in Kenya, where a drop of more than 25 percent in rural and urban areas fueled a national decline, officials said. Urban parts of Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and Malawi and rural parts of Botswana saw a similar decline.

In Latin America, the Caribbean and North America, the rate of new infections remained steady. About 43,000 people in North America were newly diagnosed this year.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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