“The Most Devastating Pandemic in Human History”
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN SOUTH AFRICA
“No war on the face of the world is as destructive as the AIDS pandemic.”—U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL.
THE first official report on AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) appeared in June 1981. “None of us involved in those early days of Aids could have imagined the scale of the epidemic that has unfolded,” says Peter Piot, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). In 20 years it has become the greatest pandemic ever, and indications are that it will continue to increase.
It is estimated that over 36 million are infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), and another 22 million have died from the effects of AIDS.a In the year 2000, three million died of AIDS worldwide, the highest annual total since the epidemic started. This is despite the use of antiretroviral drug therapy, particularly in wealthier nations.
AIDS Invades Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 25.3 million infected, has become the epicenter of the pandemic. In this region alone, 2.4 million died from the effects of AIDS in the year 2000, which is 80 percent of the worldwide total. AIDS is the major cause of death in the region.b
South Africa has the highest number of infected people of any country in the world, estimated at 4.7 million. Here 5,000 babies are born HIV positive every month. In his address to the 13th International AIDS Conference, held in Durban in July 2000, former South African President Nelson Mandela stated: “We were shocked to learn that within South Africa 1 in 2, that is half, of our young people will die of AIDS. The most frightening thing is that all of these infections, which statistics tell us about, and the attendant human suffering . . . could have been, can be, prevented.”
AIDS Onslaught in Other Countries
Rates of infection are also increasing rapidly in Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. At the end of 1999, the number infected in Eastern Europe was 420,000. By the end of 2000, that figure was conservatively estimated to have risen to 700,000.
A survey conducted in six large American cities revealed a 12.3 percent rate of HIV infection among young gay men. Further, only 29 percent of those who were HIV positive knew that they were infected. The epidemiologist who led the survey said: “We were so disheartened to find out that so few HIV-positive men knew they were infected. That means newly infected people are transmitting the virus without knowing it.”
At a meeting of AIDS experts in Switzerland in May 2001, this disease was declared “the most devastating pandemic in human history.” As noted, the AIDS onslaught has been particularly severe in sub-Saharan Africa. Our next article considers why.
a The figures used are estimates published by UNAIDS.
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“The most frightening thing is that all of these infections . . . and . . . human suffering . . . could have been, can be, prevented.”—NELSON MANDELA
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Many people who are infected with HIV do not know it
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UN/DPI Photo 198594C/Greg Kinch