According to a new study released Tuesday by the United Nations commission on AIDS, cases of HIV infection and AIDS are 50 percent higher than anyone even the most pessimistic of prognosticators had predicted. The disease has infected 36 million people worldwide, including 5.3 million new cases this year alone. At the heart of that deadly growth spurt, scientists worry, may be the insidious misperception that we've got this pandemic under control.
No champagne yet
It all started in the labs. The advent of AZT and other HIV drug treatment protocols meant HIV-infected people were not necessarily doomed to a rapid and painful death. But many in the international AIDS community began to depict that silver lining as an entire silver cloud, joyfully proclaiming the end of the plague and effectively lowering our collective guard against the disease.
Apparently, we celebrated too soon. In Africa, AIDS deaths have reached truly epidemic proportions. Yes, 3.8 million new cases were diagnosed in 2000 versus 4 million in 1999, but that drop is due to the fact that infections have simply reached a saturation point; so many are already infected that the initial case reports were bound to slow down eventually.
A new hot spot
Africa's AIDS crisis has dominated headlines in recent years, implying to many in the "developed" world that the disease might be contained to distant "third world" nations. But now there is a new hot spot for AIDS: Russia, where 300,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS by the end of the year more than all cases from previous years combined. UNAIDS officials expressed deep concern that the Russian government was not capable of dealing with the explosion of infections, but pointed to successful AIDS prevention techniques in other former Soviet Republics as hopeful signs that the disease's spread in the region may yet be contained.