Fighting the Aids Pandemic

CAMBRIDGE: After a wasted decade, the world is rousing itself against the AIDS pandemic sweeping through the world’s poorest countries, especially in Africa and South-Asia. The pandemic has claimed 19 million lives, and created 13 million orphans. 34 million more people live with the HIV virus that causes AIDS; virtually all are marked for early death.

While first identified in the US in the early 1980s, Aids is now concentrated in poor countries: 25 million people suffer from it in Africa; 6 million more in Asia. In parts of Southern Africa more than 20% of adults are afflicted.

Poor countries suffer more than rich countries for multiple reasons. Poverty leads to lower comprehension of the disease, with individuals less likely to protect themselves by using condoms. Poverty makes medical treatment expensive, so poor people with AIDS often hide their disease because there is no point in having tests if treatment doesn’t follow. Poverty also induces husbands to work away from home as migrant laborers, creating an environment in which sex with multiple partners is more likely. Poverty also renders women powerless to reject unwanted sexual advances from men who may infect them.

Even the biology of the disease may be different. HIV/AIDS may be more readily transmitted in Sub-Saharan Africa because of the prevalence of other diseases, especially other sexually transmitted diseases, that facilitate the transmission of HIV. The genetic characteristics of HIV in Southern Africa are also different from HIV in America and Europe. Some scientists believe Africa’s genetic sub-type is more easily transmitted.