Monday, June 18, 2007

World Bank says Africa's AIDS epidemic slowing

KIGALI (Reuters) - The pace of Africa's deadly AIDS epidemic is slowing as communities are empowered to help themselves in tandem with better delivery of condoms and live-saving treatments, a World Bank report said on Wednesday.

Launched in the Rwandan capital Kigali, the study noted a marked increase in access to HIV prevention, care and treatment programmes on a continent where the disease killed more than 2 million people last year. Another 25 million became infected.

"AIDS stole into Africa like a thief in the night," Joy Phumaphi, a former Botswana health minister and senior World Bank official, said in a statement.

"All these years later, we still must stay vigilant ... even when it seems that infections are starting to fall and more people are being saved with treatment."

The World Bank report said the epidemic was showing signs of slowing in Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe, as well as in urban Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi and Zambia.

"The mobilisation of empowered 'grassroots' communities, along with delivering condoms and life-saving treatments, are beginning to slow the pace of the ... epidemic," the study said, without giving specific statistics for the decrease.

Southern Africa, however, remains the epicentre of the disease with unprecedented infection rates, the report added.

One recent household survey in Botswana's second biggest city, Francistown, showed a staggering 70 percent of women aged 30-34 and men aged 40-44 carried the HIV virus, it said.

The study assesses the results of the bank's six-year, $1.28 billion (649 million pound) Multi-Country HIV/AIDS Programme (MAP), set up in 2000 to increase access to prevention, care and treatment plans.

The scheme tested almost seven million people in 25 countries, distributed nearly 1.3 billion condoms and set up some 1,500 new counselling centres, among other activities.

It also financed civil society and youth groups and organisations for people living with HIV, as well as paying for anti-retroviral treatment for 26,699 people in 27 countries.

Global funding for HIV has more than quadrupled between 2001 and 2005 to over $8 billion a year, the Bank said.

Last week, at the G8 summit in Germany, leaders announced a $60 billion commitment to fight the disease in Africa, although critics said the promised funding did not come with timelines.

But the Bank said HIV/AIDS would remain an enormous economic, social and human challenge to sub-Saharan Africa for the foreseeable future.

"In sum, HIV/AIDS threatens the development goals in the region unlike anywhere else in the world," it said.

World Bank says Africa's AIDS epidemic slowing - Yahoo! News UK