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Aids Awareness

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When AIDS first emerged, no-one could have predicted how the epidemic would spread across the world and how many millions of lives it would change. There was no real idea what caused it, and consequently, no real idea how to protect against it. Now, in 2004, we know from bitter experience that AIDS is caused by the virus HIV, and that it can devastate families, communities and whole continents. We have seen the epidemic knock decades off countries' national development, widen the gulf between rich and poor nations and push already-stigmatized groups closer to the margins of society. We are living in an ‘international' society, and HIV has become the first truly ‘international' epidemic, easily crossing oceans and international borders. Just as clearly, experience shows that the right approaches, applied quickly enough with courage and resolve, can and do result in lower national HIV infection rates and less suffering for those affected by the epidemic. Globally, we have learned that if a country acts early enough, a national HIV crisis can be averted. It has also been noted that a country with a very high HIV prevalence rate will often see this rate eventually stabilise, and even decline. This indicates, among other things, that people are beginning to change risky behaviour patterns, because they have seen and known people who have been killed by AIDS. Fear is the worst, and last way of changing people's behaviour and by the time that this happens it is usually too late to save a huge number of that country's population. Already, more than twenty million people around the world have died of AIDS-related diseases. In 2004, 3.1 million men, women and children have died. Around twice the amount who have died until now - almost 40 million - are now living with HIV, and most of these are likely to die over the next decade or so. The most recent UNAIDS/WHO estimates show that, in 2004 alone, 4.9 million people were newly infected with HIV. It is disappointing that the...

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