International AIDS Conference
This is Sarah Long. And this is Bob Doughty with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today, we tell about the International AIDS Conference held earlier this month in Barcelona, Spain.
The Fourteenth International AIDS conference was the largest AIDS conference ever held. At least fifteen-thousand people attended, including scientists, doctors, AIDS activists and government officials. They met to discuss ways to slow the spread of H-I-V, the virus that causes AIDS.
The goals of the conference were knowledge and increased action to fight the disease. Conference officials say there have been increased political efforts and money to fight AIDS since the last international conference. That meeting was held two years ago in Durban, South Africa. However, they say greater efforts are needed to ease the worldwide crisis.
AIDS has killed more than twenty-million people around the world. Experts say about forty-million people are infected with H-I-V. They say the disease is present in every country in the world. More than six-million people are infected with H-I-V in Asian countries. Most of them live in India, China and Indonesia.
The disease is spreading faster in Russia than anywhere in the world. An estimated one-million people there are infected with the virus. The disease is also increasing in Latin America and the Caribbean.
However, Africa has been hardest hit by the disease. Almost thirty-million people are infected with the virus in southern African countries.
A United States Census Bureau report says that AIDS will cause a sharp drop in life expectancy in fifty-one countries by the year two-thousand-ten. Seven countries in southern Africa now have life expectancies of less than forty years.
Census Bureau official Karen Stanecki says there will soon be more deaths than births in southern African countries because of AIDS. She says as adults die, millions of children will grow up without parents.
A United Nations report says about thirteen-million children have already lost one or both parents to AIDS in eighty-eight countries. Most of these children live in southern Africa. The report estimates that there will be at least twenty-five-million AIDS orphans by the year two-thousand-ten.
Carol Bellamy is the executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund. She says families caring for AIDS orphans need long-term support and help from community and religious groups.
The U-N International Labor Office says the deaths of millions of people are robbing African countries of the human skills they need to progress. Officials say AIDS kills workers needed for important public and private services. The disease is killing doctors and healthcare workers. And the loss of teachers is harming efforts to educate and train more young people, including the millions of AIDS orphans.
U-N officials say the loss of workers is reducing the income of African families, businesses and governments. They say it will lead to falling demand, reduced investment and production. They say new technologies must be developed to replace people in the labor force.
Experts say women in developing countries are most seriously affected by AIDS. U-N officials say almost sixty percent of women in southern African countries are infected with the AIDS virus. Young women there are up to six times more likely than young men to be infected with H-I-V. Experts say the high rate of infection will reduce birth rates because women will die young. In some areas, there will be many more men than women.
Sex between men and women continues to be the main way the virus is spread in developing countries. However, women often are not equal with men as they enter into sexual relations. They lack control over their lives and sexuality.
For example, experts say many young women are being infected by older men. Some are sexually attacked or forced into sex work for economic reasons. Many women lack the power to protect themselves from H-I-V infection.
U-N official Stephen Lewis says the AIDS crisis has become a war against women. He says the high rates of infection among young African women will lead to a population imbalance that will take many years to recover. Experts called for more prevention efforts to help young women.
The United Nations says millions of people move from one country to another. This is one of the reasons why the disease is spreading so fast. Almost two-hundred-million people are on the move around the world. But they are difficult to identify and treat. Some of these people move to different countries to seek better economic conditions.
Others are refugees fleeing unrest and natural disasters. Some displaced people are forced to become sex workers or are forced into labor. They often live in unhealthy conditions and are unable to protect themselves from disease.
Experts say AIDS is not just a problem in developing countries. In the United States, the disease is spreading quickly among minorities, women, and men who have sex with other men. Studies show that the disease may have slowed during the past three years. However, it is increasing among African Americans, especially among African American women.
Experts say part of the problem may be a false sense of security about AIDS. Powerful new anti-AIDS drugs slow the progress of the disease. These medicines have given people the wrong idea that AIDS is no longer a serious heath problem.
Current anti-AIDS medicines have helped many infected people return to work and live more normal lives. But many other people find the medicines too difficult to take. Or they have developed resistance to the drugs.
Many developing countries can not get the medicines because of their high cost.
Scientists say some new treatments are being developed. An experimental drug known as T-Twenty has been shown to help extend the lives of AIDS patients who have developed resistance to current anti-AIDS drugs. Other AIDS drugs have been successful at preventing pregnant women from passing the infection to their newborn babies. However, very few women in developing countries receive such treatment.
There is still no cure for the disease or vaccine to prevent infection. However, AIDS experts say a huge test of a vaccine aimed at preventing H-I-V infection will take place in Thailand later this year.
Experts say countries such as Thailand, Uganda, and Senegal have had some success in the fight against AIDS as a result of strong education and prevention programs. But researchers say other countries, such as China, have done little to educate the public about AIDS.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela and former American President Bill Clinton spoke during the closing ceremony of the AIDS conference. Mr. Clinton called AIDS a threat to world security. The former American president said he and Mr. Mandela are launching an effort to organize world leaders to join the fight against AIDS.
Mr. Clinton said rich nations should give more money to poor countries where AIDS is widespread. He also suggested that poor nations buy less costly copies of anti-AIDS drugs from South Africa and Brazil. Both countries are major producers of these generic drugs.
AIDS officials say at least ten-thousand-million dollars is needed each year for research, treatment and care for people with AIDS. Yet, they say less than one-third of that amount is being spent this year. During the conference, AIDS activists demanded that the United States increase its spending against the disease.
Peter Piot (PEE-aht) is the director of the United Nations AIDS Program. Doctor Piot says the AIDS crisis is increasing because of a failure to recognize that the disease is a threat to the survival of many countries. He says he hopes the conference influences people to work toward ending AIDS around the world.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Cynthia Kirk. It was produced by Caty Weaver. This is Bob Doughty. And this is Sarah Long. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.