AIDS epidemic29th May 2006
Even in the context of global epidemiology, the numbers are staggering. Currently, more than 42 million people worldwide have been infected with HIV/AIDS, twice the number infected 10 years ago.
And despite evidence that prevention programs initiated some time ago are beginning to have an impact in some countries, the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to grow.
In 2005, 4.9 million people became newly infected with HIV and a total of 3.1 million people died of HIV/AIDS-related causes. World-wide, only one in ten persons infected with HIV has been tested and knows his/her HIV status. By the end of this decade the number infected will have more than doubled to 87 million people.
Ninety-six percent of people with HIV live in the developing world, most in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that about 26 million people infected with HIV live in this region.
Of the 4.9 million new cases in 2005, 3.2 million occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Currently, new infections among women, especially young women, outpace those among men - "a stark reminder that gender inequity and violence against women fuel the epidemic." says the Global Health Council (globalhealth.org). In some African countries, three quarters of those infected are women - many of whom have not had more than one sexual partner. In six African countries, (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe), more than one in five of all pregnant women have HIV/AIDS. In Swaziland, nearly 40% of pregnant women are HIV-positive.
The rate of infections in young women is of particular concern, not only because the virus can be passed onto offspring but also because of the risks of early parental death, creating a double tragedy. To date, at least 11 million children have already been orphaned in Africa. By 2030 there will be more than 40 million orphans due to HIV/AIDS, substantially more than the entire child population of the UK.
Without prevention efforts, 35% of children born to an HIV positive mother will become infected with HIV. At least a quarter of newborns infected with HIV die before age one, and up to 60% will die before reaching their second birthdays. Although antiretroviral drugs exist which prevent transmission in the womb or through breastfeeding, they are not available on the scale required to prevent the spread of infection; only 5% of the African population have access to them. Mother to baby transmission has resulted in hundreds of thousands of children becoming "needlessly infected" in the last year and is now the main cause of the 2 million children living with HIV today.
The epidemic is already having serious indirect consequences. "As AIDS ravages families and communities, the burden of caring for ill family members rests mainly with women and girls - many of whom may be seriously ill themselves. A woman affected by HIV/AIDS is plunged further into poverty, losing the ability to provide for herself and her children. Combined with pervasive social stigma and the collapse of traditional family and support structures, HIV/AIDS is eroding the status of women in many countries." Africa, already a nation rife with poverty and famine, is on a course destined to bring the whole continent to its knees.
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