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Threat of AIDS pandemic over

9th June 2008

The threat of a global heterosexual AIDS pandemic has disappeared, according to the head of the HIV/AIDS department of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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A quarter of a century after the outbreak of AIDS, this is the first official admission that the universal prevention strategy promoted by the major AIDS organisations may have been misdirected.

Kevin de Cock, the head of the WHO's department of HIV/AIDS has said there will be no generalised epidemic of Aids in the heterosexual population outside Africa.

The understanding of the threat posed by the virus has now changed, according to De Cock, an epidemiologist who has spent much of his career leading the battle against HIV.

Once seen as a risk to populations everywhere, AIDS is now largely recognised to be confined to high-risk groups including men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and sex workers and their clients, he said.

Outside sub-Saharan Africa, it was very unlikely there would be a heterosexual epidemic, he said, including China, with its massive population.

But he still urged caution, saying there could be small outbreaks in some areas.

He also said the alarm was no longer sounding for a major heterosexual epidemic in Russia, which global experts warned in 2006 was on the cusp of a catastrophe after it was estimated that 1% of the population was infected.

Russian infections looked set to increase, although not to the level of infection seen in South Africa in 1991 where the prevalence of the infection has risen to 25%.

A joint WHO/UN AIDS report published this month showed that nearly three million people are now receiving anti-retroviral drugs in the developing world, but this is less than a third of the estimated 9.7 million people who need them.

In all there were 33 million people living with HIV in 2007, 2.5 million people became newly infected and 2.1 million died of the disease, which still kills more adults than wars and conflicts globally.

WHO, UNAIDS and the Global Fund have come under attack for diverting funds from other areas like malaria, and inflating estimates of the number of people infected.

De Cock cautioned that playing down the threat of AIDS could be misused by those who rejected HIV as the cause of the disease, or who used the disease as a weapon to stigmatise high risk groups.

 

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