At least half of all HIV cases have been among people aged 15-24. Dr Michael Merson, executive director of the WHO global programme on Aids, said that young people were driving the epidemic and that sex education was the priority.
Dr Tony Pinching, Professor of Immunology at St Bartholomew's hospital, London and a leading Aids specialist, said it was essential that young people had early and continuing health education.
'With children continually coming 'on-stream', we must reinforce the idea that education is not a once and for all thing. They need the facts early so we can create an environment in which young people support each other in their behaviour. Then we can increase awareness of this beast in our midst through peer pressure so that practising safer sex is normal.'
Professor Pinching said that young people reaching sexual awareness should learn that there was not a single way to behave, but many routes which could include celibacy, always using condoms, or having HIV tests regularly and using condoms selectively, perhaps not with long-term partners.
Dr Merson said the belief that sex and Aids education encouraged sexual activity was a powerful barrier to providing education programmes. 'Yet all the evidence suggests that the opposite is true.'
At the same time, North East Thames Health Region, the part of the country in which the highest number of Aids cases is concentrated, previewed two school plays on Aids to parents and governors, one for 10 to 12-years-olds called Kissing with Confidence and one for 12 to 14-years-olds called Sex, Lies and Stereotypes.
The theatre group, Caught In The Act, has been performing in schools for three years. Deirdre Cunningham, director of public health for the region, said: 'The feedback we get from schools is excellent. After performances the children talk through what they have seen and how it may affect them.'
This was one of dozens of World Aids Day events. The Princess of Wales, patron of the National Aids Trust, was helping to raise money at a pop extravaganza at the Wembley Arena, London.
By September at least 20,590 people in Britain had tested HIV positive, 8,115 had developed Aids and 5,135 are known to have died. In October 138 new cases were reported, 90 probably infected through sexual intercourse between men, 23 through sexual intercourse between men and women, nine through injecting drugs, one from a combination of these factors, five through receiving infected blood and two babies were infected by their mothers. In eight cases the transmission route is unknown.
Between November 1991 and October 1993 the number of male Aids cases rose by 2 per cent and the number of female cases by 45 per cent. The majority of cases, 67 per cent, are among homosexual men.
By 2000 the World Health Organisation expects 30 to 40 million people worldwide will be infected with HIV.
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