- The head of the AIDS efforts at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Kevin De Cock, has said the threat of a heterosexual AIDS pandemic is officially over and decades of predictions that the disease would spread through general populations across the globe were wrong except in sub-Saharan Africa.
The reasons were linked to several factors, particularly on Africans' unique promiscuity, concurrent sexual relations and men's failure to be circumcised.
Dr De Cock, an epidemiologist who has been at the forefront to combat the global pandemic, was convinced that the understanding of the threat posed by the virus had changed. Outside sub-Saharan Africa where it was confined to high-risk groups - men who have sex with women, injecting drug users and sex workers and their clients - the pandemic is no longer a threat to other parts of the world.
"It is very unlikely there will be a heterosexual epidemic in other countries," 'The Independent' quoted De Cock as saying.
"Ten years ago a lot of people were saying there would be a generalised epidemic in Asia – China was the big worry with its huge population. That doesn't look likely. But we have to be careful. As an epidemiologist it is better to describe what we can measure. There could be small outbreaks in some areas."
De Cock did not think "there will be extensive heterosexual spread in Russia" despite the fact that 1% of its population was infected through injecting drug use in 2006.
The AIDS scourge is having great effect on developing countries where the disease kills the adult population en masse, leaving behind a generation of orphans and causing economic damages.
A joint report published by the WHO and UN this month said almost three million people are now receiving anti-retroviral drugs in the developing countries. This is far below an estimated 9.7 million in need of drugs. Of the 33 million living with the deadly virus in 2007, two and half million were newly infected while 2.1 million succumbed to AIDS.
"Aids still remains the leading infectious disease challenge in public health. It is an acute infection but a chronic disease. It is for the very, very long haul. People are backing off, saying it is taking care of itself. It is not."
He said men who had sex with men was among the danger areas of the AIDS strategy, admitting that world transmission of HIV among this group in the industrialised world is on the increase.
"In the developing world, it has been neglected. We have only recently started looking for it and when we look, we find it. And when we examine HIV rates we find they are high," he said, adding that much men who have sex with men issue would be rigorously discussed.
He said a combination of factors - more commercial sex workers, more ulcerative sexually transmitted diseases, a young population and concurrent partnerships - had all caused heterosexual spread of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Swaziland where infection rates are exceeding 40% of adults is regarded as the worst affected country.
Africa's heterosexual epidemic is also associated with low rates of circumcission, high rates of genital herpes, which causes ulters on the genital, which allows the virus to enter the body.
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