Successes and challenges ahead on World AIDS Day
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As the world commemorates World AIDS Day, health authorities are warning against complacency as HIV infection rates rise in developing countries. In France, authorities are urging at-risk groups such as gay men and immigrants to get tested for the disease.
The latest figures from the United Nations show an estimated 1.6 million people died from AIDS-related causes in 2012, down from 1.8 million in 2011 and 2.3 million in 2005.
A total of 25 countries, many in sub-Saharan Africa, reported a 50 percent reduction in new infections last year due to increased availability of treatments.
In France, a 2010 study found that while infection rates have been falling, new infections among gay men remained stable, and accounted for 48% of new infections in 2008.
Non-French nationals accounted for around 23 percent of all new infections in 2008. Most were immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Jean-Luc Romero, a local councillor in Paris who is HIV positive, told RFI an estimated 30,000 people in France do not know they are infected with the virus.
He heads a group of elected officials working with HIV/AIDS associations, and said the key to prevention is getting tested.
“For immigrants, it’s very difficult to know them…some of them [immigrants] are illegal, and when you don’t have papers, ID, the first priority is not to think about your health,” he explained.
Romero added that HIV-positive people often face discrimination when applying for jobs and public services, and called on fellow politicians to reduce stigma about the disease.
“You need to…tell people to go to take a test, and to say to people that if you live with HIV, you mustn’t be discriminated,” he said.
On Sunday, the executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Michael Sidibé, and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi launched a new campaign targeting prejudice against HIV/AIDS sufferers, with the world’s first Zero Discrimination Day to be held on March 1 next year.
Sidibé said scientific breakthroughs meant there was now an end in sight to “an epidemic that has wrought such staggering devastation around the world.”
Despite the optimism, he added: “make no mistake, stigma, denial and complacency are still among us, putting us in danger of failing the next generation.”
Shantha Bloemen, a spokeswoman for UNICEF for sub-Saharan Africa, told RFI more needs to be done to prevent new infections despite signs of improvement on the continent.
“What we’ve seen in southern and eastern Africa is that nearly 70% of new infections are amongst women, and recent studies have proven that male circumcision could be one answer to help reduce infections. The studies are indicating that it can reduce transmission rates by almost 50 percent,” she said.
Bloemen said the statistics in South Africa are particularly alarming even though the country has the largest programme to treat HIV positive people anywhere in the world.
“What we’ve seen is a dramatic decrease in AIDS related deaths amongst adults, and at the same time an increase amongst adolescents…Teenagers that are living positive, there are often challenges to adhering to treatment. Many of them are still coming to terms with the fact that they are living positive, dealing with the consequences of sexuality and how they deal with that status,” she said.
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