World AIDS Day was observed this month. The H-I-V/AIDS pandemic is not only an enormous public health challenge, but also a threat to the political, social, and economic stability of nations. The virus is transmitted primarily through sexual contact; infected needles used to inject drugs; and from mothers to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth, and breast feeding.
Over the last two decades, AIDS has claimed the lives of more than twenty-million people; three million have died in the past year alone. The disease decimates a society’s most productive members, most often striking those between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine. More than five-million people became infected in 2003. Today, more than forty-million people are living with the H-I-V virus, including more than twenty-five million in Africa. President George W. Bush says that, “Behind these staggering numbers are the names and faces of orphaned and suffering children, devastated communities, and a continent in crisis.” In a statement issued for World Aids Day, President Bush said that fighting the disease is “a moral imperative for those who believe in the value and dignity of every human life.” The U.S., he said, “remains committed to taking action, showing compassion, and bringing hope to those affected by H-I-V/AIDS around the world.”
This year, President Bush launched an Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight the disease in more than seventy-five countries. The five-year, fifteen-billion dollar plan constitutes the largest commitment of funds in history by a single nation to an international public health initiative. It aims at preventing seven million new H-I-V infections, treating two-million people living with H-I-V/AIDS, and helping to care for ten-million others affected by the disease, including AIDS orphans.
But governments alone “cannot begin to address the global AIDS crisis,” says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. “Government officials, corporate executives, religious leaders, and community representatives must work together to disseminate life-saving information.” As Mr. Powell says, “Ignorance, stigma, and silence kill.”