AIDS Day marked worldwide

Schoolchildren in Senegal pledged to abstain from sex and Indian village women cast off a veil of shame about their HIV status as World AIDS Day was marked around the globe Thursday.

About 40 million people worldwide are now infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Some 3 million of them are expected to die of AIDS this year. Africa, with only 10 percent of the world's population, suffers over half of its HIV infections.

Heavily Muslim Senegal is a relative bright spot on the continent, with only about one percent of the population infected. Thursday, dozens of children packed into a schoolhouse in the central Senegal town of Fatick to learn more about the disease.

"Our teacher told us that AIDS is a very dangerous disease," said 13-year old Aissatou Niang, wearing a green headscarf. "Only abstinence can save us," she said as her schoolmates giggled nearby.

Such frank talk among African children is likely to cheer anti-AIDS campaigners, who say science can help treat those with HIV, but that ignorance or taboos surrounding its transmission and symptoms means AIDS is hard to halt - and treat.

"We want to say to people that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence, there is treatment, there is life after HIV," Karen Stewart, with the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, said at a rally in Lagos, Nigeria.

In India, some 70 HIV-infected women stepped out of the shadows during a rally in Golaghat, a town in eastern Assam state, to acknowledge that they are living with the disease and should not be shunned.

"I'm happy many women have paid heed to our call and have openly admitted to their HIV-positive status," said Jahnabi Goswami, 28. "Men with the disease need to follow suit."

An estimated 5.1 million people are living with HIV in India - the most in any single country except South Africa. Nigeria, Africa's most-populous nation, is third.

From the far reaches of the globe, solidarity was shown with the world's AIDS sufferers.

Thousands of candles were to illuminate the Swedish winter gloom, with anti-AIDS vigils planned for the capital, Stockholm, and a southern city, Malmo.

The British government marked World AIDS Day by contributing 27.5 million pounds to the global fight against the disease.

Estonia's National Institute for Health Development campaigned for increased tolerance and better integration of HIV-infected persons into Estonian society Thursday. With over 5,000 diagnosed cases, Estonia - a tiny nation with 1.4 million inhabitants - has one of the highest numbers of HIV-infections in Europe, spreading in the country mainly through drug use, the AP reports.


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