December 5, 1999
AIDS, the Worsening Catastrophe
Join a Discussion on Editorials
ven though new drug therapies continue to cut
AIDS death rates in wealthy countries like the
United States, the news from the AIDS front is
chilling. In the developing world, the situation is
catastrophic. Even in the United States, where
AIDS deaths have been declining, the spread of the
AIDS virus continues unabated, with new infections
accruing at roughly 40,000 a year for several years
now. The only real gain is that drugs are helping the
victims live longer. Infection rates are on the rise
among minorities, women and young people as
AIDS in this country becomes increasingly a disease of the poor and disadvantaged.
A new report from the United Nations shows
that this year AIDS is expected to kill a record 2.6
million people worldwide, higher than in any year
since the epidemic began nearly two decades ago.
More than 33 million people are infected with H.I.V.
But these numbingly high numbers cannot begin to
show the impact that AIDS is having on societies
being ravaged by the disease. International aid
agencies now consider AIDS a major obstacle to
economic and human development.
In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is single-handedly
destroying the health and welfare advances of the
last four decades. In some countries like Botswana,
one in four adults is infected.
Average life expectancy in southern Africa
reached 59 years in the early 1990's but is expected
to plunge back to 45 years in the next decade due to
AIDS. Roughly half of the new infections in Africa
are in people 25 years old or younger, who will
typically die before their 35th year.
The social impacts are staggering. More than 11
million children have been orphaned by AIDS since
1981, 95 percent of them in Africa. Soaring death
rates among the young, who form a big share of the
labor pool, will cripple economic development in
many African regions.
The industrialized nations up to now have provided less than $500 million a year for international
AIDS programs. Under the new budget signed by
President Clinton, the United States will increase its
contribution to global AIDS efforts to $225 million
for this year. That move is welcome. But the developed world needs to provide more leadership and
resources to attack an epidemic that is overwhelming the world's poorest societies.