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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 14:52 GMT
HIV infections top 40 million
Aids patient
Aids has claimed millions of lives in southern Africa
More women are now infected with HIV/Aids than men and well above 40 million people are now living with the disease, latest figures reveal.

More people are also dying from the disease than ever before, with 3.1m Aids-related deaths last year, the global update from UNAids reveals.

This is a critical moment of opportunity and danger.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO

The report, published ahead of World Aids Day on Sunday, shows that southern Africa remains at the epicentre of the Aids disaster.

However, officials have also warned of major epidemics in Eastern Europe, China and India unless action is taken to tackle the disease.

Globally, 5m people were newly infected with the virus in the past year. Almost a million of these were children under the age of 15.

Some 30m people in sub-Saharan Africa have HIV - 58% of these are women. There were approximately 3.5m new infections last year.

The situation is now so bad in some countries that it is contributing to the spread of famine.

An estimated 8.8% of the adult population in sub-Saharan Africa has the virus. However, in four countries - Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe - that figure is in excess of 30%.

'Worse to come'

The UNAids report, entitled Aids Epidemic Update 2002, warns that worse is still to come.

Living with HIV: Region totals
Sub-Saharan Africa: 29.4m
South/South East Asia: 6m
Eastern Europe/Central Asia: 1.2m
Western Europe: 570,000
Latin America: 1.5m
North America: 980,000
It states: "In four southern African countries, national adult HIV prevalence has risen higher than thought possible.

"The food crises faced in three of these are linked to the toll of their longstanding HIV/Aids epidemics, especially on the lives of young, productive adults."

Concern continues to grow about the spread of the virus in east and south Asia.

In China and India, one million people have been diagnosed with HIV. However, there are fears the true figures could be much higher.

Across the whole of east, south and south-east Asia, there were almost another million new infections during 2002.

Statisticians have warned that the epidemic is very much "in its infancy" in these regions.

Vast outbreak

Although the scale of the epidemic is far smaller in developed regions such as Europe and North America, a vast outbreak among injecting drug users in Eastern Europe and central Asia is under way.

HIV is spreading from these people into the wider population.

Dr Peter Piot, UNAids
Dr Piot wants to tackle stigma
However, among the growing tally of HIV infections, there have been some success stories - in Brazil, for example, where prevention programmes have had a massive impact, and in African countries such as Ethiopia and South Africa.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, director general of the World Health Organization, called for urgent government action.

"This is a critical moment of opportunity and danger. Unless we see national prevention initiatives championed by the highest level of government, the growth in infections can be unstoppable.

"We are this critical moment today in a number of countries in Eastern Europe, central, south and eastern Asia."

Dr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAids, in his World Aids Day message, said: "In Africa, Aids has had a catastrophic effect on food security.

"With millions killed by Aids, and millions more left ill, whole communities have been left defenceless when drought arrives."

He added: "The World Aids Campaign for 2002-2003 is all about stigma and discrimination - tackle them and we are well on the road to winning the fight against Aids."

The BBC's Richard Black
"Each year five million are newly infected"
Dr Peter Piot, executive director of Unaids
"The myth that Aids is a gay man's disease is well and truly gone"
Human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger
"Children are not being protected"

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