The global AIDS epidemic continues to spread. According to a new report released by the United Nations, there were five million new infections and three million AIDS deaths in 2003.
Over the last two decades, AIDS has claimed the lives of more than twenty-million people. Thirty-eight million people worldwide are believed to be living with H-I-V, the virus that causes AIDS. The greatest number of infections is in Africa, says Karen Stanecki, a senior adviser for the program called U-N-AIDS:
“Equally alarming, we have only just begun to witness the full impact of AIDS on African societies as infections continue to grow and people are dying in large numbers. The scale of the problem in Africa is well-documented, with over twenty-five million infections. If we do not act now, sixty percent of today's fifteen-year-olds will not reach their sixtieth birthday."
The U-N-AIDS report cites the rapid spread of the disease in other regions, particularly Asia and Eastern Europe. China, Indonesia, and Vietnam experienced the most rapid increases, with more than one million total new cases in 2003. The Caribbean is another hard-hit region with several nations experiencing case rates of at least three percent. Haiti, with a case rate of over five percent, is the most severely affected country outside Africa.
The U.S. is working to stop the spread of the disease. In addition to funding prevention programs and caring for those already infected, the U.S. is spending millions of dollars to provide drugs that will prolong the lives of people with H-I-V or AIDS. President George W. Bush says the U.S. is leading the world in responding to the crisis:
“H-I-V/AIDS is a direct challenge to the compassion of our country, and to the welfare of not only our nation, but nations all across the globe. This disease leaves suffering and orphans and fear wherever it reaches. It's really one of the great challenges of our time.”
The AIDS epidemic is not only an enormous public health challenge, but also a threat to the political, social, and economic stability of nations. As President Bush said, fighting AIDS is “a moral imperative for those who believe in the value and dignity of every human life.”