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WHO and UNAIDS release annual report that focuses on HIV prevention

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recently released their annual report on the global AIDS epidemic. It highlights the progress made by some countries in lowering HIV infection rates despite a continued increase in the total number of people infected with HIV throughout the world. The report, AIDS Epidemic Update 2005, was released in advance of World AIDS Day on December 1st and focuses on the importance of HIV prevention efforts and the need to increase and improve these efforts throughout the world.

Kenya and Zimbabwe are two countries where an increase in the uptake of voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) and a delay in the initiation of sexual contact are linked with a decline in HIV prevalence over the past few years. Burkina Faso also had an overall decline in infection rates among adults.

But there were still 4.9 million new infections in 2005, taking the total number of HIV-infected individuals worldwide to over 40 million. Sub-Saharan Africa was the hardest hit region globally, accounting for 64% of all new infections or more than 3 million newly HIV-infected people. The sharpest rise in infection rates was seen in Eastern Europe and Central Asia where the epidemic is now being fueled by both injection drug users (IDUs) and heterosexual transmission. Pakistan and Indonesia are two countries facing explosive epidemics among both IDUs and sex workers.

"We really are failing to prevent this epidemic in most parts of the world," says Jim Kim, director of WHO's HIV/AIDS program. "And we have real opportunities to scale up prevention." He said one of those opportunities is ensuring that some of the momentum created around starting HIV treatment programs in developing countries is extended to HIV prevention efforts, such as massively scaling up VCT programs and focusing on preventing mother-to-child transmission. Kim also suggested that the increase in available funding for HIV treatment could be used to help countries start comprehensive prevention programs.