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On World AIDS Day, Governments Are Urged to Keep Their Promises

I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

World AIDS Day is observed each December first. World health ministers started the campaign eighteen years ago. This year, the message was “Keeping the Promise.” The idea was to urge governments to do more to stop AIDS.

The United Nations AIDS program and the World Health Organization recently presented their yearly AIDS report. It says more than forty million people live with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, or with AIDS itself. There were five million new cases this year. More than half were in southern Africa. And more than half were among young people and women.

The report says about three million people will have died this year of AIDS-related causes.

AIDS has killed more than twenty million people since it was first discovered twenty-five years ago. In some countries, it has lowered the average life expectancy by as much as thirty years.

Countries in southern Africa continue to be the worst affected, with more than twenty-five million cases. Millions of children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Many are raising themselves, or are being raised by grandparents, without public assistance. And economies are suffering as a result of lost productivity.

Experts say H.I.V. rates in Asia are low by comparison. But they say AIDS is spreading in every part of the continent. India has the second highest number of infections after South Africa; both nations have more than five million cases. AIDS is also a growing problem in Indonesia, China and Russia.

This week, the W.H.O. warned that unless Asian governments do more, ten million people could be infected by two thousand ten. The Chinese government says it will spend one hundred million dollars this year on AIDS prevention and treatment.

The United States is leading efforts to expand treatment and prevention programs in developing countries. But critics note that the W.H.O.’s “Three-by-Five” plan to provide treatment to three million people by two thousand five has fallen short. Still, the director of the U.N. AIDS program, Peter Piot, says there are signs of progress in the fight against AIDS.

He says adult infection rates are down in several nations, including Kenya, Zimbabwe and some Caribbean countries. He says this improvement is largely because of increased use of condoms.

In general, many lives have also been saved with anti-viral drugs. But there is still no AIDS vaccine and no cure. And health officials say drugs are not reaching enough people fast enough to save lives, especially in Africa.

In South Africa on World AIDS Day, the opposition criticized the health minister for mixed messages about the value of anti-viral drugs.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Cynthia Kirk. Internet users can read and listen to our reports at I'm Steve Ember.