Countries that still have low levels of
infection should avert the epidemic's potential spread, rather than take comfort from current infection rates. The key to success in low-prevalence settings where
is not yet a risk to the wider population is to enable the most vulnerable groups to adopt safer sexual and drug-injecting behaviour, interrupt the virus's spread among and between those groups, and buy time to bolster the wider population's ability to protect itself against the virus.
This means, first, determining which population groups are at highest risk of infection and, second, mustering the political will to safeguard them against the epidemic. At the same time, it is vital to defuse the stigma and blame so often attached to vulnerable groups and to deepen the wider public's knowledge and understanding of the epidemic.
Young people are a priority on this front. Twenty years into the epidemic, millions of young people know little, if anything, about
. According to UNICEF, over 50% of young people (aged 15‚24) in more than a dozen countries, including Bolivia, Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Viet Nam, have never heard of
or harbour serious misconceptions about how
is transmitted. Providing young people with candid information and life skills is a prerequisite for success in any
The impact of the
epidemic is being increasingly felt in many countries across the world. Southern Africa continues to be the worst affected area, with adult prevalence rates still rising in several countries. But elsewhere, also, in countries often already burdened by huge socioeconomic challenges,
threatens human welfare, developmental progress and social stability on an unprecedented scale.
epidemic has a profound impact on growth, income and poverty. It is estimated that the annual per capita growth in half the countries of
is falling by 0.5‚1.2% as a direct result of
. By 2010, per capita GDP in some of the hardest hit countries may drop by 8% and per capita consumption may fall even farther. Calculations show that heavily affected countries could lose more than 20% of GDP by 2020. Companies of all types face higher costs in training, insurance, benefits, absenteeism and illness. A survey of 15 firms in Ethiopia has shown that, over a five-year period, 53% of all illnesses among staff were