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HIV hits 50 million
Most new cases are in Africa
More than 50 million people have now been infected with the HIV virus, according to the latest UN and World Health Organisation figures.

More than 16m have died from Aids-related illnesses.

The UNAIDS "Epidemic Update" reveals that, despite concerted prevention efforts in developing countries, the increase in infections continues.

Deaths from Aids reached a record 2.6m in the past year - 2.2m died in 1998 - and an estimated 5.6m adults and children were infected.

Sub-Saharan Africa - which includes countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia - still accounts for the majority of all new infections.

Aids has emerged as the single greatest threat to development

Peter Piot, UNAIDS

There are now more women carrying the virus than men. African girls aged 15 to 19 are five to six times more likely to be HIV-positive than boys the same age.

Life expectancy in southern Africa is expected to fall from 59 in the early 1990s to 45 between 2005 and 2010. This would be roughly the same level as in the early 1950s.

Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, said that Aids was the single greatest threat to development in many countries.

"With an epidemic of this scale, every new infection adds to the ripple effect, impacting families, communities, households and, increasingly, businesses and economies."

Former USSR cases rising steeply

Injecting drug use in the former Soviet Union has been held responsible for the world's steepest HIV curve.

The number of infected people rose by more than a third in 1999 to reach an estimated 360,000.

An Aids orphan in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
In Moscow, three times as many cases were reported in the first nine months of 1999 as in all previous years combined.

The report does highlight some grounds for optimism, picking out prevention projects in India and Brazil as worthy of praise.

But Mr Piot warned against complacency in Western countries.

"We have even seen evidence from North America and Western Europe suggesting that the availability of life-prolonging therapies may be contributing to an erosion of safer sexual behaviour."

Certainly, the latest HIV figures from the UK show no fall in the number of new infections in 1998. This has been blamed partly on more needle sharing among intravenous drug users.

Rise in infections

The increases in the number living with HIV have not slowed down.

Last year's Aids Epidemic Update suggested that more than 30m were living with the HIV virus worldwide - a rise of 10% over the previous year. This year's increase is the same.

Experts are warning that the biggest rate of increase is in Asia.

India and China are thought to be two of the nations most vulnerable to the spread of the disease, even though infections are relatively low at the moment.

In contrast to sub-Saharan Africa's 22 million plus HIV cases, there are approximately 500,000 infected men, women and children in Western Europe.

Dr Peter Piot
"HIV is a huge international problem"
The BBC's Richard Hannaford
"AIDs is now the biggest killer in the world"
See also:

23 Nov 99 | Health
04 Nov 99 | Aids
08 Jul 99 | Aids
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