HIV Infection Up By 2 Million in Past Year; Africans Hit Hardest
MARRAKESH, Morocco (AP) _ About 2 million more people were infected with the AIDS virus in the last year, mostly in Africa where teen-agers and young adults are being infected at an alarming rate, the World Health Organization said Sunday.
Nearly 70 percent of the world’s 15 million people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus are in Africa, said Michael Merson, director-general of WHO’s Global Program on AIDS.
He spoke at the opening of the eighth annual International Conference on AIDS in Africa.
Most alarming is the spread of AIDS among African youths and young adults. Merson said a new WHO study of the African epidemic shows that 60 percent of new infections are among people ages 15-24.
″This demonstrates the vulnerability of Africa’s youth and shows us where to focus our prevention efforts,″ Merson said.
Ethiopia has close to half a million infected people, while in Nigeria as many as 22 percent of the men treated at sexually transmitted disease clinics are HIV-positive, he said.
″And to the south, where we think the epidemic may take its greatest toll, already one in three women seeking post-natal care in Francistown, Botswana, are infected,″ Merson said.
He said migration and population displacements because of civil strife are encouraging the spread in Africa of the fatal disease, which destroys the body’s immune system.
″Since the last AIDS in Africa conference ... only a year ago, some 2 million more men, women and children worldwide have become infected with HIV, most of them in Africa,″ Merson said.
About 3,500 medical researchers, sociologists, health officials, AIDS activists and artists from 40 countries gathered in this north African city for the five-day congress to examine the spread of AIDS and discuss prevention.
″AIDS is becoming more and more a problem of poor countries and of the outcasts of rich countries,″ Hakima Himmich, president of the Morocco Association to Combat AIDS, told Le Matin magazine this week.
″It is a disturbing evolution, because as long as rich countries are concerned about it they will invest in research, but if one day they fail to feel threatened they will do no more for research,″ she said.
French Health Minister Simone Veil said France would convene a meeting of leaders of wealthy donor countries next year ″to affirm a true strategy of intervention″ against AIDS in developing nations.
Crown Prince Sidi Mohammed, son of Moroccan King Hassan II, told the conference that 5,000 Africans become infected with HIV every day.
″We must efficiently adapt our policies for the sake of our own continent,″ the 29-year-old prince said.
Conference participants include Luc Montagnier of France and American Robert Gallo, the two scientists credited as co-discovering the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
About 600 youths Friday set out on a three-day march from the capital Rabat to Marrakesh, stopping at towns along the way to inform villagers about AIDS.