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Published: Monday, 12/4/2006

An AIDS alarm

IT IS disheartening when serious medical setbacks are predicted for a disease that while incurable is also preventable. A new worldwide study estimates that AIDS will become the fourth leading cause of death behind heart disease, stroke, and cancer within the next 25 years.

When researchers last calculated global mortality projections a decade ago they assumed the number of AIDS cases would be declining. They were wrong. The cases are rising and accounting for about 2.8 million deaths every year.

The report in the Public Library of Science s Medicine journal estimates nearly 120 million people could die of AIDS in the next quarter century. The key to lowering that projected figure, researchers say, is what the global community does now.

Changes in public health approaches to controlling the disease are vital.

New HIV infections must be curbed if treatment programs are to be sustained. Experts say the solutions lie in more aggressive prevention approaches from condom distribution to new methods like a vaccine that can slow the spread of AIDS.

Dr. Richard Hays, professor of epidemiology at London s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says the time for focusing simply on treatments and noncontroversial prevention has past.

The scientist, who was not linked to the study, said, You can t put all your eggs in the abstinence basket. We need a menu of strategies for real people.

The authors of the report optimistically reduced the projected AIDS deaths in three decades to 89 million if new HIV infections are lower and access to life-prolonging anti-retrovirals higher. AIDS doesn t have to be among the top future causes of death and disease in the world.

It all depends on what we do now.

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