The worrying sexual behaviour of young adults, particularly men, in rich nations and a surge of the spread of Aids in Eastern Europe and Central Asia linked to drug use, officials said, has tainted positive signs such as dramatic cut in the number of infections passed from mothers to their newborn babies.
Agencies including the UN’s HIV/Aids programme UNAids have cautiously highlighted a fall in the number of global infections in figures released ahead of World Aids Day.
Secondary, tertiary waves
But Paul De Lay, deputy executive director of UNAids, said: “There seem to be secondary and tertiary waves of the epidemic, particularly the sexually transmitted side.
“You have a young people who don’t know enough about Aids, there is less of a fear factor about it.”
He said it was a particular problem in Britain, Germany and the United States. Without giving specific figures, he said infection rates among young people are three times what they were in the early 2000s.
“We find that every five to seven years we need to go through a new re-energised education campaign. We are doing that in the UK and Germany. Here in the US we have had a huge resurgence of sexually transmitted Aids.”
According to the UNAids annual report released last week, there were an estimated 54 000 new infections in the United States last year and 3 900 in Germany. There are an estimated 1.2 million Aids sufferers in the United States, 85 000 in Britain and 67 000 in Germany.
Ongoing transmission cycle
In Eastern Europe and Central Asia “there has been an explosion of young people who are experimenting with injected drugs,” according to the UN expert.
This is “ripe” for spreading HIV/Aids and pregnant addicts pass on the infection to their children extending “an ongoing transmission cycle,” said De Lay.
Russia and Ukraine together account for almost 90% of new HIV/Aids infections in recent years, said the UNAids report. Ukraine now has the highest adult Aids rate in Europe and Central Asia.
UNAids said “there is strong evidence of resurgent HIV epidemics among men who have sex with men” in North America and Western Europe, where there are now an estimated total of 2.7m sufferers, up 30% since 2001.
The 3 160 new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men in Britain in 2007 were the most ever reported. In the United States, new HIV infections attributed to unprotected sex between men increased by more than 50% from 1991-1993 to 2003-2006.
Around the world there were an estimated 2.6m new infections last year, down from about 3.3m at the peak of the Aids pandemic in 1999, according to De Lay.
“It is a slow, steady decrease,” said De Lay, who predicted that at the current rate it would take about 50 years to conquer Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
The 370 000 babies a year born with Aids is down from 500 000 a year at the start of the decade and a new UN report said it would be possible to eradicate mother-to-baby transmission of Aids by 2015.
Virtually no babies are born with Aids in Europe and North America now as wealthier countries launched aggressive screening and prevention programmes in the 1990s.
But in Africa, 1 000 babies a day are still infected with HIV/Aids through mother-to-child transmission.
Anthony Lake, executive director of the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) called the figure “outrageous” and demanded greater efforts for “the hardest hit communities”.
But, highlighting the greater use of anti-viral drugs and other treatments, World Health Organisation director general Margaret Chan said “we have strong evidence that elimination of mother-to-child transmission is achievable”. AFP