UNAIDS/WHO Releases World AIDS Epidemic Update
href="http://www.unaids.org/">UNAIDS and the World Health Organization yesterday jointly released their annual report, titled "AIDS Epidemic Update," on the current state of the AIDS epidemic worldwide. UNAIDS/WHO estimate that 36.1 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV/AIDS, a number 50% higher than WHO's Global Program had projected for 2000 in 1991, with 5.3 million people newly infected with HIV in 2000. In addition, three million AIDS deaths occurred in 2000, contributing to a total of 21.8 million AIDS deaths since the beginning of the epidemic. The report notes that the number of HIV infections "var[ies] enormously from place to place, depending on how far and fast the virus is spreading and on whether those infected have started to fall ill or die in large numbers." The following is an overview of the AIDS epidemic in different regions of the world, as described in the report:
- Sub-Saharan Africa: "For the first time," there are indications that the number of new HIV infections in this region may have stabilized. In 1999, 4.0 million new HIV infections occurred in the region, compared to 3.8 million in 2000. The report attributes the slight decrease to epidemiological factors -- with so much of the sexually active population already infected, there is a "smaller pool of people still able to acquire the infection." Prevention programs also may have contributed to the reduced infection rates (AIDS Epidemic Update, 12/2000).
- Eastern Europe: The AIDS epidemic has exploded over the past year in Eastern Europe, where HIV infections nearly doubled. Currently, 700,000 people are living with HIV in the region, compared with 420,000 just a year ago. The increase is "particularly dramatic" in the Russian Federation, where more people were infected with HIV in 2000 than all previous years combined. Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, explained, "Most of these new infections are among injecting drug users. In many of these countries, the fight against the epidemic is being waged against a backdrop of socio-economic turmoil. This instability fuels drug use and commercial sex, both of which increase the spread of HIV" (
UNAIDS/WHO release, 11/28). Debrework Zewdie, World Bank's Global HIV/AIDS coordinator, yesterday at a World Bank briefing also attributed the dramatic rise to "tremendous denial" among Eastern European governments. Zewdie added that a "dramatic change" in governments' attitude towards the epidemic is essential to curb the spread of HIV (Meredith Weiner, Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/29). Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director General of the WHO, said that Russia "has a window of opportunity during which it can still curb the spread of AIDS through effective interventions." Currently, the epidemic is mainly contained within Russia's IV drug-using population, but "a second wave of HIV infections spread by sexual contact could follow ... in just three to four years," Brundtland warned.
- Asia: HIV infections in South and Southeast Asia now account for 20% of infections worldwide, with a prevalence rate of 0.56% (UNAIDS/WHO release, 11/28). In East Asia and the Pacific, infections have been held "at bay," with just 0.07% of the adult population infected with the virus. However, the report notes that the epidemic in East Asia "has ample room for growth," with an extensive sex trade, use of illicit drugs and "migration and mobility within and across borders."
- North Africa and the Middle East: Little data has been amassed previously on the epidemic in this region, but "[r]ecent evidence" suggests that new infections "are on the rise." An estimated 80,000 new infections occurred in the region in 2000, bringing the total number of people living with HIV/AIDS to 400,000.
- Latin America and the Caribbean: The epidemic in this region is a "complex mosaic," as some countries have managed to curb the spread of HIV, while infection rates continue to rise in others. HIV rates in the Caribbean are "the highest in the world outside Africa."
Meanwhile, prevention efforts have stalled in richer countries. Furthermore, "Overall HIV prevalence has risen slightly" in Western Europe and North America, primarily because antiretroviral drugs are extending the lifespan of HIV-positive people. The report notes that the repercussions of waning prevention efforts "are being felt above all by injecting drug users and their families, who are thought to account for the bulk of new infections in many high-income countries." Access the report online at www.unaids.org/wac/2000/wad00/files/WAD_epidemic_report.htm (AIDS Epidemic Update, 12/2000).
The World Bank, in association with UNAIDS and MTV, will attempt to reach young audiences globally on World AIDS Day with an HIV/AIDS documentary titled "Staying Alive 2." Capitalizing on MTV's strong brand recognition -- the "world's largest TV network" -- and youth's "strong attraction to the network," the half-hour documentary will premiere on channels in Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, Russia and the United States, reaching an estimated 326 million households in 139 countries. In addition, the special is being offered free to third-party broadcasters "worldwide in 11 languages."
In the tradition of 1998's Emmy award-winning edition of "Staying Alive," this year's documentary, hosted by "international superstar" Ricky Martin, profiles six young adults affected by HIV/AIDS. The individuals profiled were filmed at their locales in Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern & Western Europe, the Caribbean and North America (MTV/World Bank/UNAIDS release, 11/27). Thus far, 26 broadcasters have elected to air the documentary, including the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, Thailand's Bangkok Broadcasting & Television Co. and the National Geographic Channel. The Wall Street Journal Europe reports that these additional broadcasters may bring "a far larger potential global audience of 743 million homes."
However, "[d]espite MTV's efforts," the South African Broadcasting Co., southern Africa's largest broadcaster, will not run the program, choosing instead to run its own "all-day education blitz" on World AIDS Day. But "Staying Alive 2" will reach other African audiences through Zambian, Zimbabwean and Kenyan state channels, according to MTV (Harris, Wall Street Journal Europe, 11/28). World Bank President James Wolfensohn said, "'Staying Alive 2' attacks one of the root causes of the spread of AIDS; that is, ignorance about how it's spread, who can acquire it and how it can affect entire societies. To stop the spread of the disease, we must reach all audiences, young and old, throughout the world. Any opportunity for us to reach out to teenagers or other groups who need more information is a chance to save lives. Complacency is deadly" (MTV/World Bank/UNAIDS release, 11/27).
According to an MTV poll of more than 4,100 16- to 24-year-olds in 16 countries across Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America, 60% of young adults "think they should be worried" about HIV/AIDS, but only 24% said they know "much" about the disease. In addition, the poll found that 51% of sexually active young people said "they would never have sex without a condom" (USA Today, 11/29). Bill Roedy, President of MTV Networks International and Ambassador for UNAIDS, said, "Given that more and more young people are becoming infected on a daily basis it is vital that MTV does everything possible to arm kids with the knowledge to protect themselves. The most meaningful contribution MTV can make to this fight is by talking to its audience base -- hundreds of millions of young people. In addition, we are urging other broadcasters around the world to accept our offer to air [the documentary] rights free, in order to highlight HIV & AIDS issues to an even wider audience." Piot added, "By talking about the epidemic, by airing the issue broadly like MTV is doing, we can help lift this veil of silence. Not admitting the existence of AIDS or keeping it hidden merely makes people more vulnerable." The documentary can be viewed online at
href="http://www.staying-alive.org/">www.staying-alive.org (MTV/World Bank/UNAIDS release, 11/27).