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Blood
transfusions a concern again in battle against AIDS

Blood
transfusions a concern again in battle against AIDS

Unsafe blood transfusions and contaminated syringes should be a new focus in the fight against AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the world's highest HIV infection rates, the top U.S. AIDS official said on Wednesday.

Mark Dybul, the U.S. Global AIDS coordinator, said evidence suggests that sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is stabilizing in sub-Saharan Africa thanks to education programs. But he said the new task is to stop infections through blood transfusions--difficult for poor countries saddled with both decrepit medical facilities and HIV infection rates as high as 40% in some areas.

"The best treatment for HIV/AIDS is to prevent people from getting it, and that's why we need this comprehensive response," Dybul told reporters. "We also need to work on nonsexual transmission."

Dybul, in Zambia for a four-day visit to assess HIV/AIDS programs in the southern African country, said Washington would give Zambia a total of $570 million in the four years to 2007 to fight the pandemic. One in five of Zambia's 10 million people has either HIV or AIDS, according to official estimates.

Much of the U.S. money goes to the Maina Soko military hospital in Lusaka, one of Zambia's best facilities, which is open only to military personnel and their families.

Dybul toured its HIV clinic and laboratories fitted with equipment to screen blood for HIV--a relative rarity in Zambian hospitals, where doctors often have to boil syringes for reuse on other patients, and medicines, including HIV drugs, are in short supply.

Dybul urged African countries to build on programs that urge sexual abstinence and condom use and address nonsexual HIV transmission, both in hospitals and from mother to child.

"I think sub-Saharan Africa has seen good progress," he said. "Young men and women are changing their behavior.... We are seeing rapid expansions of country programs. A lot more needs to be done, but people of Zambia and sub-Saharan Africa are making success," he added. (Reuters)

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