HIV/AIDS - a worldwide epidemic
HIV and AIDS – they’re still regarded as the gay plague. If you’re a white, middle class heterosexual there’s nothing to worry about. And even if you have unprotected sex and become HIV positive, the drugs are so good these days so you probably won’t get AIDS anyway. Right?
The HIV epidemic is tightening its grip on the global community and according to the World Health Organization it’s now the “fastest growing threat to human development”.
After all the horror stories and dire predictions of the mid-1980s, when AIDS first reared its ugly head, the media in the developed world has now largely lost interest in the problem. That’s dangerous because when a problem stops hitting the headlines, the masses assume it’s either under control or has gone away. Complacency is setting in – and complacency can kill. HIV is on the rise among young heterosexuals in the USA and many European countries.
Effective new drug treatments in the wealthier nations mean many HIV positive people are now able to live full and productive lives without developing AIDS and the lethal infections that go with it. And many are using their HIV status to take control of their own lives and bodies, boosting their immune systems so effectively with nutritional and other complementary therapies that they no longer need the drugs. But powerful anti HIV drugs aren’t effective for everyone – in fact sometimes they do more harm than good and in many cases the virus becomes resistant to them. But with the powerful vested interests of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry at the forefront of the fight against HIV, drugs are always the first line of defense in the developed world.
If you’re HIV positive in one of the world’s richer nations, at least you have the luxury of deciding whether to rely on standard medical treatment, use alternative therapies or a combination of both. Not so for the vast majority of people infected with HIV in developing countries. In most parts of Africa, Asia and South America you don’t get to choose between anti-HIV drugs and nutritional supplements. If you’re a street kid in Honduras, forced into prostitution to survive, or an African woman gang-raped by marauding militia you won’t have any choice at all – you’ll get HIV, AIDS and die and you’re unlikely to get any help from anyone.
Millions of woman and children around the world are infected with HIV each year because of sexual violence, dire poverty and civil unrest. In the developing world the figures are rising at a terrifying rate. But the world largely turns a blind eye to this global catastrophe. After all, it’s the gay plague and it’s under control.
Global complacency over the HIV crisis is allowing whole nations to be decimated. And it’s this very same complacency which is allowing the killer virus to snare a whole new generation of youngsters in developed countries such as the UK and USA – youngsters who never saw those infamous and unforgettable tombstone adverts of the 1980s.
The cold hard facts about HIV/AIDS
Joe Public in the developed world thinks we’ve cracked the AIDS problem. New drug treatments enable people infected with HIV to live relatively normal and productive lives and these treatments have reduced the number of AIDS cases quite dramatically. So what is there to worry about? Here are just a few things:
1. HIV infection is now rising dramatically among young heterosexuals in many northern European countries and in the USA
2. According to UNICEF six people aged between 15 and 24 become infected every minute of every day
3. The ease of global travel in recent years means the huge epidemics sweeping Third World nations inevitably affect developed countries. No single area of the global community is safe as long of millions of people continue to become infected with HIV
4. In sub-Saharan Africa more than 25 million people are now infected with HIV and the numbers are rising each year
5. Extreme poverty, civil war and domestic violence expose millions of women and children around the world to HIV infection on a daily basis
6. Babies in Africa are routinely raped by HIV infected men who believe this will rid them of the virus
HIV/AIDS Epidemic - Putting things in perspective
So what are we supposed to do faced with the sheer enormity of this global catastrophe? Most of us do nothing. Television footage of the Tsunami disaster, which claimed an estimated 250,000 lives, prompted the world’s population to react as never before in response to a humanitarian disaster. In that same year the HIV epidemic killed 2.5 million people in the sub-Saharan countries and left 12 million children orphaned. This is a disaster on a scale the world has never seen before – a disaster which, unlike the Tsunami, is preventable. But the developed world, by and large, is turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to it.
Some might argue that the scale of the crisis and the cost of tackling it are just too unmanageable to contemplate.
WHO estimates that around $1.5 billion a year is needed to implement HIV prevention programs in the African countries worst hit by the virus. An impossible amount, you might think. Until you consider that some of the western oil corporations which continue to exploit Africa’s natural reserves make more than 10 times that amount in a single year.
And the USA alone spends a staggering $22 billion a year treating people suffering from heart disease because of their obesity.
It’s certainly food for thought.
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