Every 15 seconds someone, somewhere gets HIV

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The Independent Online
ONE NEW person is infected with the Aids virus every 15 seconds, while 10-12 million adults - and 1 million children - already have HIV, according to the World Health Organisation. More than 2 million have developed Aids, writes Liz Hunt.

The world was at the beginning of an 'Aids era', Michael Merson, director of its global Aids programme, told a conference in Amsterdam yesterday.

Small, discreet epidemics of HIV had 'coalesced' into a worldwide epidemic, he said. Transmission rates in parts of south and south-east Asia, which had been relatively safe, were now as high as sub-Saharan Africa. In central and eastern Europe 'new found freedom' had fuelled the spread of HIV, Dr Merson said.

Women and children were at increasing risk as the gap in transmission rates between the sexes narrowed everywhere. By 2000, more than half of all newly infected adults will be women. In sub-Saharan Africa more than 20 million girls aged 10 to 14 would soon become sexually active, he said. In some cities more than a third of adults were HIV positive, so a single act of intercourse was a substantial risk.

In developing countries family structures and whole villages were being destroyed as thousands of children became 'Aids orphans' left with elderly relatives. Up to 80 per cent of hospital beds in some African cities are occupied by Aids patients, and the disease would soon be claiming half of some countries' national expenditure on health.

Anke Erhardt, from Columbia University's School of Medicine, said efforts at prevention were 'too limited and misguided'.

The public health realist was hampered by 'moralisers' who believed abstinence rather than condom use should be taught in schools. The female condom was an important step. There was no evidence that youngsters who started having sex would stop, she said. 'Programmes of revirginisation won't work.'

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