With better reporting systems, international health experts have a clearer view of the AIDS epidemic as it spreads around the world, but they don't like what they're seeing in developing countries.
"The global balance of HIV infection is rapidly tipping toward the developing countries," said Michael Merson, director of the World Health Organization Global Program on AIDS.These countries currently account for about half of the 6 million to 8 million people worldwide infected with the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. By the end of the decade their share will probably increase to 70 percent to 80 percent, and possibly to 90 percent in 2010, according to figures WHO released Tuesday.
"What's going to happen in this decade is that AIDS will continue to increase in Africa, primarily in countries that don't have large rates of infection now," Merson said in an interview.
"In addition, we're starting to see considerable increases in Asian countries and South American countries and also in the Caribbean."
Part of the reason for the faster-than-expected spread of HIV in these countries is that the limited data available previously made accurate predictions difficult and better reporting systems are now in place, said Dr. David Brandling-Bennett of the Pan American-World Health Organization.
However, officials have documented an alarming increase in HIV infection in Thailand and are unsure why it is spreading so quickly, he said.
In that Asian country, the number of people who have been infected and their cases reported to authorities rose from about 1,000 in 1987 to 50,000 currently, Merson said. He added that only about one-third of actual cases get reported.