Statistics from the World Health Organization

The thirtieth anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS was on Sunday. As local reporters reflected on the history of AIDS in America, I remembered the fear and uncertainty of the cause, the stigma associated with AIDS as a “gay” disease, and the discrimination faced by Ryan White, a boy only two years older than myself. But there was a deafening silence in many of these reports. They focused only on the United States and failed to acknowledge the present state of HIV infection as a pandemic.

Ukimwi (AIDS) has decimated sub-Saharan African populations.  People in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s are being wiped out, leaving orphans to be cared for by elderly grandparents and leaving economies with holes where the most productive demographic should be.  Thesis after thesis could be written about the spread of HIV in East Africa.  I’d like to make only three points.

  • Most of the people infected with HIV in East Africa are women.  It is easier to transmit the virus from man to woman than from woman to man.  Whether her partner is her husband, a boyfriend, or someone imposing himself on her, it is very difficult for an African woman to ask him to wear a condom.  There is also a large number of children living with HIV who have contracted the virus from their mothers.  Looking at the graph, you can see that in America, most of the cases are men, but heterosexual infections are on the rise.
  • While the total number of HIV infections among these four countries appears to the same, keep in mind that the total population of the United States is about 10 times that of each of these East African countries.  HIV infection rates in the U.S. are about 0.4%.  In East Africa, they range from 2.7 – 4.2%.  If you consider only the adult population, then the infection rates are closer to 7%.  Botswana in Southern Africa has rates as high as 24.8%.
  • The number of people living with HIV is relatively steady.  With prevention, fewer people are becoming infected.  With health care and antiretroviral drugs, people can live longer, more productive lives.  HIV doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

For more information, go to UNAIDS or the World Health Organization.