AIDS #1 Health Threat To Kids

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The U.N. Children's Fund reports AIDS is now the single biggest health threat to the world's children.

At least 10 million children are already infected.

UNICEF's annual Progress of Nations report, released Wednesday, estimates that every minute, six people under age 24 become infected. And more than 13 million uninfected children are now AIDS orphans.

Against this backdrop, the world AIDS conference in South Africa has been marked by protests over lack of prevention, affordable treatment, and the choice of South Africa -- which has the world's highest infection rate -- to host it.

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In Washington, Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Wednesday the U.N. Security Council will soon approve a resolution to intensify the world's commitment to fighting AIDS.

Holbrooke says the unprecedented resolution is vital because AIDS "is so widespread and menacing it poses a threat to international stability."

CBS News Anchor Dan Rather on Wednesday interviewed President Clinton's AIDS policy advisor, Sandra Thurman, who is attending the conference:

Rather: Ms. Thurman, how bad is this epidemic?

Thurman: Well quite frankly the epidemic is out of control. We have 34 million people infected worldwide, 22.5 million of those live here in Africa and within the next decade we expect to have 40 million children orphaned by AIDS.

Rather: And to the American taxpayer who's watching and listening, who says, "hey I'm worried about AIDS, we're doing what we can but we can't cure everything the world over, we're pretty much doing what we can," you say what?

Thurman: What we see in Africa today is just the tip of the iceberg. We know that in 15 years the center, or epicenter will be in India, and then following 10 years on into the former Soviet Union, so we have a pandemic on our hands and this epidemic is truly circling the globe.

Rather: Fair or unfair to say it's the modern version of the ancient bubonic plague?

Thurman: It's absolutely fair to say. This is learly the worst public health crisis we've seen… and if the epidemic continues to escalate at its current pace it will absolutely make that epidemic pale in comparison.

Rather: And will the several hundred million dollars that we're now spending as people as a society to try to stem this tide, is there any possible way it can do the job?

Thurman: Well, no absolutely not, a few hundred million dollars is absolutely a drop in the bucket in a pandemic this size… People don't understand that HIV and AIDS is a very real threat to people in the United States of America. If we don't continue to educate young people, if we don't continue reach out to communities most at risk, we will have a second wave of this epidemic in the United States and it will be much harder to manage than the first wave was.

In its annual report, UNICEF said girls and young women worldwide were 50 percent more likely to contract HIV than young men.

And in sub-Saharan Africa, almost half of girls aged 15 to 19 did not know that a person who looked healthy could still be carrying HIV and pass it to them through sex.

Some 600,000 babies are infected every year by their mothers either in the womb, during birth or through breast-feeding.

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The widely-used spermicide nonoxynol-9, long recommended as a way to stop the spread of AIDS, may actually increase the risk of catching the virus, at least among women who use it frequently, according to the surprising findings of a large study presented at the conference. As a result, health officials say condoms used solely to prevent disease should not be coated with nonoxynol-9, although a condom with the spermicide is certainly safer than no condom at all.
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South African research shows that a drug called nevirapine, which is given to the mother during labor and to the child within 48 hours of delivery, is just as effective and much cheaper than the drug zidovudine, or AZT.

In Botswana, one in three women and one in seven men aged 15 to 24 are infected with HIV. In Lesotho, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the ratio is one in four women and one in 10 men.

UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy urged heads of state to lead a "war of liberation" against the spread of AIDS.

"We believe what's required is the argest mobilization of resources in history," she said.

The education system, which is crucial in promoting awareness programs, is also buckling under the epidemic, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where an estimated 860,000 children lost their teachers to AIDS in 1999.

UNICEF said some parents were keeping their daughters out of school for fear that they might become infected.

"Particularly disturbing is the evidence that large numbers of young people in HIV-prevalent countries are not clear on how to protect themselves," Bellamy added. "Many don't know they are at risk at all -- especially girls -- and that's a disaster."

In Mozambique, nearly three-quarters of girls between the ages of 15 and 19, and 62 percent of boys of that age were unable to name one way to protect themselves from infection.

Recent surveys show that in countries where AIDS has reached epidemic proportions, sexually active girls between the ages of 15 and 19 do not believe they are personally at risk.

There were some signs of hope, however, in the falling infection rates in Uganda, Malawi, Senegal and Zambia, where education campaigns have targeted young people, she said.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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