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WHO chief: Angola must act to stop AIDS spread

End of civil war brings chance to fight disease, he says


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LUANDA, Angola (Reuters) -- Angola, the southern African nation least hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic because of its civil war, must act now to prevent a big rise in the number of cases, the head of the World Health Organization said Saturday.

The end of 27 years of civil war has brought freer movement of people from neighboring countries and within Angola, creating conditions for the deadly virus to spread quickly, WHO director-general Lee Jong-Wook said in an interview with the Reuters news agency.

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"We are seeing, depending on the outcome, the beginning of a much bigger epidemic, or it can be a success story like Uganda," Lee said. "But to make it a success, really we have to take action right now."

The United Nations has reported that AIDS infections appear to be declining in many parts of Uganda, which it attributes to successful HIV-awareness programs.

Lee said Angola, which does not provide anti-AIDS drugs in its public hospitals, should build HIV education and awareness programs and make antiretroviral drugs available to pregnant women to stop the virus being transmitted to their unborn children.

"Now that peace has come to Angola, I am sure they can afford to spend more money for health, and I hope they will," he said.

Little is known about the prevalence of HIV in Angola, which emerged from years of brutal civil strife in 2002, with the death of veteran rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

United Nations tests on pregnant women in Luanda have shown that 8.6 percent of them carried the virus in 2001, compared with 3.4 percent in 1993 and 1.1 percent in 1991.

"We can anticipate that these numbers will grow rather than decrease," Lee said. "This is the time to take decisive action rather than wait or be complacent."

The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), a grouping of 14 countries, has been hit hard by HIV/AIDS, which has infected more than 23.3 million of its people, and none of its member states has been able to reduce the incidence of infection.

The United Nations Development Program has estimated that 40 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases worldwide occur in the SADC area, though it has only about 1 percent of the world's population.

Health experts say the rate of HIV infection is lower in Angola than in most countries in the region because the civil war kept foreigners away and reduced travel within the country.

The 14 members of SADC are Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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