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What is the real extent of the AIDS epidemic? Why does AIDS attract so
much controversy? Do conventional anti HIV drugs do more harm than good? Are
there safe and effective treatments that can be made widely available at
This special mini-series is part of an in-depth report, Unravelling
AIDS, to be published by ISIS later this year.
If you are interested in reserving a copy of the full report at a
special prepublication price of £7.50, please e-mail [email protected]
Frightening figures on the AIDS pandemic make headlines all over the
world. But do the figures conceal the real causes of human suffering?
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports
for this report are available in the ISIS members site.
Full details here
UNAIDS figures (see Box) released at the end of December 2003 claim 40
million affected with HIV or AIDS worldwide, and within the year, three million
people have died while five million new cases were recorded, the vast majority
in sub-Saharan African. AIDS is also reported to be fast becoming a major
problem in China, India and Russia.
At the end of 2003, an estimated 40 million people worldwide
- 37 million adults and 2.5 million children younger than 15 years - are living
with HIV/AIDS. Approximately two-thirds (26.6 million) live in Sub-Saharan
Africa; another 18 percent (7.4 million) live in Asia and the Pacific.
Worldwide, approximately 11 in every 1000 adults aged 15 to
49 are HIV-infected. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 8 percent of all adults in
this age group are HIV-infected.
An estimated 5 million new HIV infections occurred worldwide
during 2003; that is, about 14,000 infections each day. More than 95 percent of
these new infections occurred in developing countries, and nearly 50 percent
were among females.
In 2003, approximately 2,000 children under the age of 15
years, and 6,000 young people aged 15 to 24 years became infected with HIV
In 2003 alone, HIV/AIDS-associated illnesses caused the
deaths of approximately 3 million people worldwide, including an estimated
500,000 children younger than 15 years.
These horrendous figures of the "global AIDS pandemic" are widely
reported, not only in newspapers and popular magazines, but also in scientific
Yet, practically every aspect of the global AIDS pandemic has been
challenged, from the reality of the AIDS disease to the efficacy and safety of
expensive treatments with conventional pharmaceutical drugs. Big money is
involved, which invariably clouds the horizons.
On World AIDS Day, 1 December 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO)
and UNAIDs in Geneva unveiled their "3 by 5" plan to provide anti-retroviral
drugs to 3 million in developing countries by 2005. This represents only about
half of the people worldwide most in need of treatment, and will cost US$5.5
In his 2003 State of the Union address, George Bush pledged a total of
$15 billion over five years to fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries,
especially in Africa. Unfortunately, only 2 billion of the expected 3 billion
was available in the first year, and funding appeared to be tied to the
purchase of conventional pharmaceutical drugs and the countrys acceptance
of GM crops. The allocated budget for 2005 is even less generous. The White
House has requested only $2.8 billion for programs to fight HIV/AIDS,
tuberculosis and malaria globally, with just a portion of this money going to
In India, where more people are said to be infected with HIV than any
country except South Africa, Health Minister Sushma Swaraj said the government
was in negotiations with Indian drug companies to get "rock-bottom drug prices"
for AIDS patients. Indian patients could receive a commonly used triple-drug
regimen for less than US$0.20 a day compared to the current cost of at least
US$1 a day, an industry source said.
Across the rest of Asia, in China, Japan and Thailand, celebrities are
lending their glitter to the fight against AIDS and the arrival of big bucks.
Spending on AIDS rose 50 percent from US$3.1 billion in 2002 to US$4.7 billion
in 2003, although it was still only half of what is needed, said Peter Piot,
UNAIDS executive director.
In this special series, we look into the real extent of the AIDS
epidemic, and some of the controversies surrounding the diagnosis and causes of
the disease, also the side effects of expensive conventional anti HIV drugs in
contrast to some safe and effective treatments that can be made widely
available at affordable costs.
We show that the AIDS epidemic can be effectively addressed without
being turned into a global political football by powerful vested interests.