Dark Statistics Cloud World AIDS Day | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.12.2002
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Dark Statistics Cloud World AIDS Day

In its latest AIDS survey, the UN reports dramatically increasing infection rates in former Soviet states and Africa and warns of barriers high drug costs present for effective global treatment.


The latest UN numbers show women have become the new face of HIV and AIDS.

Just days before the official World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization released the latest data on the global health crisis. The international organizations estimate at least 42 million people around the world have become carriers of the HIV virus believed to cause AIDS. At least 3.2 million of those infected are children and 19.2 percent are adult women.

A female face

Recent statistics have also shown that, for years now, AIDS has no longer been a disease concentrated among gay men. Indeed, public health experts today say the disease is quickly gaining a "female" face. By the end of 2002, UN and WHO researchers predict, at least half of the world's HIV and AIDS infected will be women.

This year alone, more than 5 million people have been infected with HIV – including two million women and 800,000 children under 15 years of age. The disease killed more than 3.1 million people this year.

A social and economic catastrophe

In many countries, the disease, which weakens the immune system and opens the body to opportunistic infections and other illnesses, has led to a social and economic catastrophe. The disease is "robbing entire countries of their resources and their potential," the United Nations stated in its report.

According to UNAIDS official Michel Sibide, the situation in sub-Saharan Africa is "out of control." Africa is home to more than half of the world's HIV and AIDS cases, with at least 29.4 million infected persons. In Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho, one-in-three adults is a carrier of the virus. The people of the region are also suffering from a famine that has been triggered in large part by the inability of many of the countries' people to work because of the illness.

Explosive rate of infection in Central Asia

UNAIDS has also charted dramatic increases in the infection rate in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. In Uzbekistan, for example, more infections were reported during the first half of 2002 than in the previous 10 years combined. The agency said drug abuse and the use of dirty needles are the largest causes of infection there.

"In Eastern Europe, the epidemic actually began in the mid-'90s," Dr. Ulrich Marcus of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin told DW-WORLD. "Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia have hardly been touched by the disease. The problems really began in the Ukraine and the Baltic states. There was a wave of transmission through drug abuse, but now you're starting to see subsequent transmission through sexual contacts," he said.

Disparities in treatment

Massive disparities in treatment from country to country also give cause for alarm. In Europe and North America, there is a direct corollary between the decrease in AIDS cases during a time when HIV infection rates are actually increasing and the success of new treatment methods, including cocktail drug therapies. But few people in developing nations have access to the treatments due to the high price of the drugs. According to WHO officials, a mere 4 percent of HIV patients in developing countries have access to the life-extending drugs.

Infection rates stabile in Germany

This year, about 2,000 new HIV infections were reported in Germany according to the Berlin-based Robert Koch Institute. Infection rates here have remained stabile and virtually unchanged from the previous year. One third of those infected live in the country's six biggest cities: Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Hamburg, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt. In one of the few positive statistics of disparity between eastern and western Germany, the institute reported that 55 percent of the infected are in western German states and only 8 percent in the states that once formed communist East Germany.

There are currently 39,000 HIV-infected persons living in Germany, 9,000 of whom are women. Of those infected, about 5,000 have full-blown AIDS. Approximately 600 Germans are expected to die from AIDS-related complications by the end of 2002.

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