Drop in AIDS Cases Due to Previous Inflated Estimates

The number of AIDS cases worldwide fell by more than 6 million this year to 33.2 million, global health officials in London said Tuesday. But the decline is mostly on paper. Previous estimates were largely inflated, and the new numbers are the result of a new methodology. They show AIDS cases in 2007 were down from almost 39.5 million last year, according to the World Health Organization and the United Nations AIDS agency. Although the decline is largely due to revised numbers, U.N. officials said it still showed the AIDS pandemic is losing momentum.

BY admin

November 21 2007 1:00 AM ET

The number of
AIDS cases worldwide fell by more than 6 million this year
to 33.2 million, global health officials in London said
Tuesday. But the decline is mostly on paper.

Previous
estimates were largely inflated, and the new numbers are the
result of a new methodology. They show AIDS cases in 2007
were down from almost 39.5 million last year,
according to the World Health Organization and the
United Nations AIDS agency.

Although the
decline is largely due to revised numbers, U.N. officials
said it still showed the AIDS pandemic is losing momentum.

''For the first
time, we are seeing a decline in global AIDS deaths,''
said Kevin De Cock, director of WHO's AIDS department.

The two agencies
will issue their annual AIDS report Wednesday after
convening an expert meeting last week in Geneva to examine
their data collection methods.

Much of the drop
is due to revised numbers from India -- which earlier
this year slashed its numbers in half, from about 6 million
cases to about 3 million -- and to new data from
several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Previous AIDS
numbers were largely based on the numbers of infected
pregnant women at clinics, as well as projecting the AIDS
rates of certain high-risk groups like drug users to
the entire population at risk. Officials said those
numbers were flawed and are now incorporating more
data like national household surveys.

U.N. officials
could not rule out future downward corrections. WHO and
UNAIDS experts reported 2.5 million newly infected people in
2007. Just a few years ago, that figure was about 5
million.

While the global
AIDS numbers are falling, there are huge regional
differences. Sub-Sarahan Africa remains the epicenter of the
epidemic. AIDS is still the leading cause of death
there, where it affects men, women, and children.
Elsewhere in the world, AIDS outbreaks are mostly
concentrated in gay men, intravenous drug users, and sex
workers.

But the U.N. said
progress was being made and that the global epidemic
peaked in the late 1990s.

''There are some
encouraging elements in the data,'' said De Cock. He
said the dropping numbers were proof that some of the U.N.'s
strategies to fight AIDS were working.

Not everyone
agrees. Some critics have accused the U.N. of inflating its
AIDS numbers and say the revised figures are long overdue.

''They've finally
got caught with their pants down,'' said Jim Chin, a
clinical professor of epidemiology at the University of
California, Berkeley. Chin is a former WHO staffer and
the author of The AIDS Pandemic: The Collision of
Epidemiology With Political Correctness.

He said that it
was difficult to tell whether the lowered numbers were
evidence that AIDS treatment and prevention strategies were
working or whether the decrease was just due to a
natural correction of previous overestimates.

Even with the
revised figures, ''the numbers are probably still on the
high side,'' said Daniel Halperin, an AIDS epidemiologist at
the Harvard School of Public Health. Halperin attended
the WHO/UNAIDS meeting last week that reviewed the
figures and said that the estimates were getting
closer.

Chin and Halperin
said AIDS officials may be reluctant to admit that
fewer people are infected because it may translate into less
funding for efforts to fight the disease.

''On the one
hand, it would be a mistake to radically decrease funding
for HIV,'' Halperin said. ''But on the other hand, why not
put more money into family planning or climate
change?''

Other experts
said that even with the decreased figures, much more is
needed to stop the AIDS pandemic.

''We are still
failing to respond to the crisis,'' said Paul Zeitz,
executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance. ''The
overall prevalence of AIDS may have stabilized, but we
are still seeing millions of new infections and it is
not time yet to step back from this battle.'' (Maria
Cheng, AP)

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