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World AIDS Day Focuses on Global Epidemic

World AIDS Day was observed worldwide on December 1 with marches, speeches, and religious services to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, an epidemic that has infected more than 60 million people since the early 1980s, according to Kaisernetwork.org. A report released last week by the United Nations (UN) revealed that for the first time, approximately half of all adults who are HIV-positive are women, shattering the notion that the disease primarily affects gay men. Of the 2.5 million deaths from AIDS worldwide this year, almost half were women. In addition, 3.2 million children are HIV-positive, according to the report. More than 20 million people have died from AIDS since the epidemic began.

The situation is slightly less grim in the United States, where HIV prevention programs may have prevented as many as 1.5 million cases, according to BBC News. Emory University’s Center for AIDS research estimates that preventing these infections saved at least $11 billion in medical costs, BBC reports. There were an estimated 900,000 cases of HIV/AIDS in the United States at the end of 2001, according to the UN. A new test approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) early last month gives HIV test results in only 20 minutes, which will further reduce the number of new infections in the US, according to the FDA. Right now, approximately one-fourth of all infected adults in the US are unaware that they have contracted AIDS.

The region most affected by the epidemic is sub-Saharan Africa, which has 28.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS, which is about 75 percent of the total cases in the world. The UN reports that AIDS is the main cause of massive food shortages in the region, which affect more than 14 million people. The deaths of more than six million agricultural workers in combination with severe drought in the region have led to dire need for emergency food relief and a long-term plan to fight the AIDS epidemic, according to Reuters. Highly populous countries such as India and China are also at risk for a rapid spread of the disease. The UN estimates that the current one million cases in China could reach 10 million by 2010. Almost four million people are living with HIV/AIDS in India, which has the second-highest number of cases in the world.

Despite speaking in favor of increased funding for HIV-prevention programs in a World AIDS Day statement, President Bush has actually worked to downplay the importance of condom use to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. Every prominent medical and health organization in the US agrees that proper condom use is imperative to reducing the risk of infection by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. However, the Bush administration has gone so far as to remove fact sheets from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web site discussing the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. In addition, conservative ideologues will likely replace seven of the eight Clinton-appointed panelists on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) when their terms end this January. Exiting panelists including gay activists who support HIV prevention programs that incorporate “safer sex” practices and condom use. AIDS advocates are worried about these and other shifts to the right in the Bush Administration’s AIDS policies.

LEARN MORE Click here to read women’s narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.

Sources:

New York Times 11/27/02; Reuters 11/27/02; Washington Post 12/2/02; BBC News 11/22/02; Kaisernetwork.org 12/2/02; FDA release 11/7/02; UNAIDS report 7/2002; UNAIDS fact sheet 2002