A global shortage of condoms and the continuing reluctance of many men to use them is fuelling a worldwide explosion in HIV and Aids, say scientists and health workers.

A global shortage of condoms and the continuing reluctance of many men to use them is fuelling a worldwide explosion in HIV and Aids, say scientists and health workers.

Fifteen years after the link between HIV and Aids was established, there are still not enough condoms in the countries they are needed most, according to estimates from the United Nations Aids programme released yesterday.

Michael Fox, senior technical director of UNAids, estimates that nine billion condoms a year are supplied to countries around the world but more than twice as many are needed. "There is a condom gap and certainly not enough condoms are being used" he said.

Bernhard Schwartlander, an epidemiologist who helped to prepare the latest figures, said the virus was continuing to spread rapidly, particularly in Eastern Europe, South-east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

There are still problems in distribution and in convincing people to use them, He said"It's not an easy topic for any society but there is a supply problem as well. We really do want to make sure they are used when they are available."

Many of the estimated 40 million people in the world who are infected with HIV are unaware that they carry the virus. A third are between the ages of 15 and 24, when people are most likely to experiment with sex.

Doctors estimate that 724 million condoms were distributed in sub-Saharan African in 1999 – an average of just 4.6 condoms a year for each man.

So far this year, HIV has killed 2.3 million people in Africa and is estimated to have infected another 3.4 million. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for about 70 per cent of the global total for HIV infections yet the continent accounts for just 10 per cent of the global population.

Eastern Europe is experiencing the fastest increase in HIV infection rates in the world, with Russia reporting 75,000 new infections this year, a 15-fold rise in three years.

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