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AIDS: A Global 'Super Disaster'

14th Sep 1999

An international conference on AIDS in Africa, where more than 80 percent of the total AIDS deaths in the world have occurred, opened in Zambia on Sunday amid calls for the pandemic to be declared a global disaster. The World Health Organisation's director for Africa, Ibrahim Samba, said on his arrival in the Zambian capital late Saturday that the disease which threatens to decimate the African population should be declared a global "super disaster". UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot said that each day last year saw 16,000 new HIV infections and half of them were experienced by young people. "Globally young people -- those who must build the bridges, create national wealth and conduct research of the future -- experience half of all new infections, in many parts of the world," said Piot in the preface to the UNAIDS report available at the 11th conference on AIDS Africa. For five days, delegates gathered here will brainstorm in search of practical ways to bring about a reversal of the trend of AIDS, the single greatest threat to economic, social and human development. Samba, who spoke ahead of the opening of the conference in Lusaka, said the devastating impact of AIDS called for more political will. Several African heads of states are expected to attend the meeting, which ends on Thursday. The World Bank has meanwhile called on African leaders to put the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa high on their national agendas. "The World Bank is calling on African leaders, the private sector and society at large to push the HIV/AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa to the centre of their national agendas in order to stop the fastest-growing threat to development," the bank said in a statement released at the conference. Samba, quoted by Zambia's Sunday Mail, said half of pregnant women in Africa were HIV positive while 80 percent of patients occupying medical wards in hospitals were suffering from AIDS. The 21 countries with the highest HIV prevalence in the world are all in Africa, and in at least 10 of them, the rate exceeds 10 percent of the population. Piot said by end of last year, more than 33 million people, a number that exceeds the entire population of Canada, were living with HIV. Life expectancy in most affected countries in Africa is declining, a reversal of the rapid progress made in the years that followed independence in the majority of the countries.

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