The fact that AIDS is a pandemic means that it is a disease that is present in the human population across continents or even worldwide. There is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS, although there are various drugs available to treat the symptoms and infections that can arise. These include antiretroviral drugs – however, these are very expensive and are not readily available in the majority of LEDCs. Other treatments include alternative medicine such as acupuncture, but these are only methods of alleviating the symptoms rather than providing a cure for the disease itself.
Antiretroviral drugs are the main treatment available for HIV and AIDS. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but the drugs help to treat and control any symptoms and diseases that may arise from having AIDS. Antiretroviral drugs are designed to keep the amount of HIV in the blood at a low level, which prevents the immune system weakening and allows it to recover from any damage already caused by HIV.
Timeline of HIV/AIDS
~1930 – HIV transfers to humans in Africa.
~1970 – HIV enters the United States.
1970s – Western doctors remain ignorant of the growing epidemic.
1982 – AIDS is reported in several European countries. The name “AIDS” is created.
1984 – Scientists become aware that AIDS is affecting a large area of Africa.
1985 – AIDS is found in China, and has therefore been seen in all regions of the world.
1990 – Around 8 million people worldwide are living with AIDS.
1996 – Anti-retroviral drugs are shown to be effective against HIV.
2003 – The first AIDS vaccine is found to be ineffective.
2007 – Around 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV.
As you can see, the amount of people living with HIV/AIDS has increased from 8 million 18 years ago to around 33 million today. Even with the increase of anti-retroviral drugs, there are clearly more people being diagnosed every day, and the drugs are not a cure but a treatment. Therefore, as the drugs assist people with AIDS in living longer, there will be higher numbers of people living with the disease as the life expectancy of sufferers increases.
AIDS in the UK
From the figures above, we can see that although the number of people living with AIDS in the UK is relatively low (compared to other countries), the number of people living with the disease has increased greatly since the 1990s. Statistics show that the number of new HIV diagnoses has increased almost threefold between 1995 and 2005, indicating that the epidemic is still expanding rapidly. However, figures for 2006 and 2007 show that the epidemic is stabilising, and the figures are even declining slightly.
By the year 2000, 91% of the UK’s population knew that HIV could be transmitted through unprotected heterosexual sex, but by 2007 this figure had fallen to 79%. Modern drug cocktails such as anti-retroviral drugs have led to dramatic improvements in the life expectancy of patients in the Western Hemisphere, and today, a patient diagnosed at 20 can expect to live until nearly 70. Overall, life expectancy of HIV sufferers has improved by 13 years between 1996 and 2005, and as treatments continue to be refined, this has further improved.
The high rate of HIV amongst Africans in the UK reflects the severity of the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.
AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa – Malawi
The AIDS epidemic in Malawi has caused over 650,000 deaths and continues to be responsible for the deaths of around ten people every hour. Out of a population of nearly 14 million, almost one million people in Malawi were living with HIV at the end of 2007. AIDS is the leading cause of death amongst adults in Malawi, and is a major factor in the country’s low life expectancy of just 43 years.
Malawi’s first AIDS case was reported in 1985. In response, the Government implemented a short-term AIDS strategy (including blood screening and HIV education programmes), and created the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) in 1988 to co-ordinate the country’s AIDS education and HIV prevention efforts.
AIDS in China
There are an estimated 700,000 people in China currently living with HIV, with approximately 75,000 AIDS patients. Last year around 39,000 of the 1,300 million population died from AIDS and related diseases. This estimate is lower than the previously published estimate of 840,000 in 2003. However, this may not be due to prevalence of the disease falling, but due to better methods of data collection and estimation.
Initially characterised by denial and inaction, the Chinese government has recently realised the danger of ignoring HIV/AIDS and has initiated a broad programme to tackle the epidemic.
In recent years, China has introduced HIV/AIDS into the curriculum regarding sex education in schools, in the hope that this will bring down the number of affected people. There are also various clinics across each region to help raise awareness of the disease, and many other methods of raising awareness, such as displaying messages on university buses, have been put into practice.
Before 2003 far fewer people with HIV/AIDS in China had access to anti-retroviral drugs, and medical knowledge about the virus was limited. However, when the Chinese government launched China CARES (China Comprehensive AIDS Response) in 2003, a community-based HIV treatment, care and prevention programme, this changed. Pilot programmes were started in seven central Chinese provinces and provided more than 5,000 HIV/AIDS patients with free, domestically produced antiretroviral drugs. The “Four Frees and One Care” policy was announced at the end of the same year stating that free HIV treatment would become available to poor people in urban areas and to everyone in rural areas.
This graph shows the global trend of HIV worldwide. The number of people living with HIV has risen from around 8 million in 1990 to around 33 million today, and is still growing. Around 67% of people living with HIV/AIDS are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Overall from my research, I have discovered that the number of people living with AIDS worldwide has increased four-fold in just under 18 years. However, this is not to say that the spread of the pandemic is outpacing the progress made in combating the disease itself. As MEDCs in the western world continue to develop new, more effective treatments such as anti-retroviral drugs, more and more people in developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, are being diagnosed with the disease. Anti-retroviral drugs improve the life-expectancy of sufferers, so as people are still being diagnosed, more people are living longer and therefore there are more people living with the disease overall.
For example, anti-retroviral drugs are very expensive and luckily in most MEDCs such as the UK they are provided free (on the NHS in the UK). Unfortunately many countries, such as South Africa, are in denial and refuse to accept that HIV/AIDS has become a widespread pandemic. In these countries, progress is not being made because antiretroviral drugs are simply not as readily available, and therefore more and more people are being diagnosed with AIDS but very few have access to treatment, causing the death rate to increase. There seems to be a split between MEDCs and LEDCs – those countries that have accepted that the pandemic is happening and are doing everything they can to stop the disease from spreading further are making steady progress, but their progress is being cancelled out by LEDCs who simply don’t have access to anti-retroviral drugs, or those with governments that are in denial.
In countries like China, there is still a large amount of prejudice and discrimination placed around HIV positive people, and this is probably due to the failure to educate Chinese citizens about AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. However, In 2003 China initiated an ambitious programme to raise awareness of the disease, reduce stigma and prevent a generalised HIV epidemic in the country. It includes educational campaigns, HIV testing outreach projects, targeting high-risk groups and prevention of mother to child transmission.
There are still some countries in which the citizens have very limited/no education on HIV/AIDS and how it is spread, and some countries, like Zimbabwe, where citizens refuse to accept or acknowledge the education they are given. In Zimbabwe, AIDS workers go out and inform people of the spread of AIDS, and how it can be transmitted, even giving out free contraceptives to try and prevent the disease from spreading further. However, it was evident from a video we watched that people did not care whether they gave HIV to somebody through unsafe sex – it is clear that the majority in Zimbabwe are still in denial.
Luckily in MEDCs, education about HIV/AIDS is routine in most schools and colleges, and the methods of spreading the disease are widely acknowledged and understood. However, although the AIDS pandemic could be eradicated one day in the future, there is still the trouble of migrants from other countries bringing the disease with them, and there being another outbreak. For this reason, I do not think it is likely that HIV/AIDS will be eradicated anywhere in the world until a vaccine is developed against the disease, and even then, vaccines are not a foolproof method of totally eradicating the disease, as some people can be immune to the vaccine.
Progress is being made in some LEDC countries, such as Uganda. The number of reported HIV cases has dropped from 44% in 1989 to 23% ten years later, and is still declining. Uganda’s government have a high level of commitment in tackling the disease, and the country is also very open about its epidemic, not in denial like some other Sub-Saharan African and Asian countries.