Global Health Watch: AIDS deaths and HIV infections decline in Africa, U.N. report says

Johannesburg, South Africa -- AIDS is killing and infecting fewer people in Africa, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations' AIDS agency, but it also said sub-Saharan Africa is still the worst affected region.

The UNAIDS Report on the Global Aids Epidemic 2010, released Tuesday, says that new infections have dropped by 20% globally and 25% in South Africa. It said fewer people were dying because of improved access to drugs and treatment.

According to the report, 320,000 fewer people died of AIDS in 2009 than in 2004, after anti-retroviral drugs were made more widely available to Africans. Just under 70% of all people living with HIV and AIDS –- or 22.5 million -- are African. The global total of those with HIV and AIDS is 33.3 million.

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According to UNAIDS, South Africa has the largest population of HIV-positive people: 5.6 million. Tiny landlocked Swaziland, neighboring South Africa, has the highest infection rate, about 26%. The report indicated signs of hope, including a fall in new infections. In 2009, there were 1.8 million new infections, compared with 2.2 million in 2001.

UNAIDS official Sheila Tlou told journalists in Johannesburg that one reason for the drop in new infections was greater awareness and increased use of condoms. Her comments came as African AIDS organizations welcomed Pope Benedict XVI's comments that in some circumstances condoms could be morally justified to protect partners from infection.

Tlou told the Associated Press the pope's comments could help further reduce new infections in Africa and called on churches to follow his lead. "I think it will have a very positive impact .... Catholics consider the pope Infallible. He cannot err in what he’s teaching. That way [people] will now be able to use condoms, and I can see a further decline in the AIDS epidemic."

Read a Los Angeles Times story on the entire UNAIDS report here.

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