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Awareness of AIDS high, but risky behaviour remains - UN report

Awareness of AIDS high, but risky behaviour remains - UN report

Despite a greater awareness of HIV/AIDS, especially in developing countries, individual actions remain risky, according to a new United Nations report that says dramatic changes in sexual and reproductive behaviour are needed in order to defeat the epidemic.

"HIV/AIDS: Awareness and Behaviour," released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs on the first anniversary of the UN General Assembly's special session on the disease, examines HIV/AIDS-related awareness and behaviour in 39 developing countries, including 24 in Africa, 7 from Asia and 8 from Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to the report, HIV/AIDS campaigns have raised awareness in many developing countries, especially in urban areas, but do not appear to influence individual risk perception and behaviour. Even in countries where HIV prevalence is high, most people feel that their risk of contracting AIDS is low.

The study also finds that women are generally less knowledgeable than men about HIV/AIDS, and attributes this gap to the status of women and the sensitivity of sexual matters in many cultures.

As for information sources about the disease, radio was found to be the most important, with broadcast messages making a significant contribution to awareness and knowledge of the disease.

Meanwhile among young people, schools have had limited impact on raising awareness and conveying a basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS, the study says. And, while considerable efforts have been devoted to promoting the use of condoms as part of HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns, condom use among couples remains low in affected countries.

Speaking at a press briefing to launch the report at UN Headquarters in New York, a senior UN official said that enormous behavioural changes in the reproductive sexual practices of men and women were needed to deal with the increasing consequences of the epidemic.

Responding to a question about the policy implications of the study, Joseph Chamie, Director of the UN Population Division, said that public awareness, a pragmatic approach and commitment from world leaders were crucial.

Such commitment could be seen from the General Assembly, the UN Millennium Summit’s focus on AIDS and the Secretary-General’s emphasis on ensuring that people everywhere knew how to avoid infection, Mr. Chamie noted, calling for more research on how to effectively change behaviour, given the importance of informing people of the risks of contracting and spreading HIV/AIDS.