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Report: HIV epidemic could triple by 2010

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- By the end of the decade, the number of people infected with HIV in Russia, India, China, Ethopia, and Nigeria could more than triple, far exceeding the number in central and southern Africa, the current epicenter of the worldwide epidemic, a government intelligence report said Monday.

"Looking at AIDS as an African problem will be at odds with the reality of the disease," said David Gordon, former national intelligence officer for economics and global issues with the National Intelligence Council, which carries out mid-term and long-term strategic thinking for the CIA, and which prepared the report.

At present, these five countries combined have between 14 million and 23 million HIV-positive residents. "We fear that number could climb to between 50 and 70 million by the end of the decade," Gordon said.

Between 25 million and 27 million people are infected with HIV in central and southern Africa now; that number is expected to rise to between 30 million and 35 million by the end of the decade, the report said.

Worldwide, there could be more than 80 million cases of HIV infection by the end of the decade, it predicted.

These countries concern experts because they are so populous, the five together comprise more than 40 percent of the world's population.

"When you have countries with such a large population," said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, "if you have one percent of the population infected and it doubles, you're looking at 20 million people."

Reversing the trend would take quick action by the governments of the countries involved, the report said. Yet most of them have weak health infrastructures that are overwhelmed trying to cope with the growing numbers of sick people, it added.

In such countries, the global community at large must take action to rein in the spread of the disease through a program of prevention and treatment, said a senior state department official.

Dr. Desmond Johns of UNAIDS said the United Nations' program on AIDS has developed a package of 12 intervention programs that could cut the number of projected infections by two-thirds.

"Prevention is the number one strategy," Johns said. "But it has to be followed by a full range of treatment options and also add in care for orphans."

The report focused on the five countries not only for their large populations, but because they're strategically significant in their region and to the United States. For example, Nigeria is an important source of oil and would be in a position to sell it to the United States if a war with Iraq were to choke supplies from the Middle East.

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