the Greatest Plagues of History
By Jack Nichols
A United Nations report issued June 24 states that worldwide HIV infections increased by 5.6 million last year while full-blown AIDS killed 2.3 million. African nations south of the Sahara desert accounted for 21 of earth's most heavily-infected areas while teens and adults in those areas (aged 15 to 49, the sexually- active) numbered highest in the latest staggering statistical jumps.
AIDS, say medical experts, has so devastated Africa that it now rivals the greatest plagues in history, including the famed Black Death of the Middle Ages. That plague killed a quarter of Europe's population, or approximately 20 million. Influenza's outbreak (1919) also killed 20 million worldwide, with Americans dead numbering 500,000.
In a later and deliberately-caused plague--World War II---the dead numbered approximately 50 million, including combatants and civilian populations bombed.
United Nations statistics – finally providing the first national counts—say that as of 1997--30 million world citizens—21 million in Africa alone— were carrying the HIV virus. Those Africans infected are expected to die protracted and painful deaths without access to those expensive medications available to more privileged residents in "developed" countries.
The World Health Organization's estimates the planet's HIV-positive population at 42 million. United Nations officials are now telling member nations that the silent and lengthy incubation period for AIDS-- it strikes unexpectedly in rural outposts where HIV-tests are non-existent—has led too many governments into a false sense of security, woefully underestimating the presence of the virus.
Dr. Peter Plot, who directs the United Nations AIDS Program, blames the disease's silent presence for its prevalence. "If HIV killed as rapidly as the plague and influenza, the epidemic would be controlled by now," he told reporters.
South Africa, Namibia, and other African nations are approaching infection levels of one in every four citizens. In urban areas the numbers are as high as one in three. AIDS is poised to become one of the top five leading causes of death in the world.
When these figures became available last week, the United Nations' medical officials expressed shock and said that at first they suspected they were due to statistical errors. A re-check, however, found that the statistics, if anything, had underestimated HIV head-counts everywhere.
Botswana's infection rate has doubled—from 10 percent of its population HIV positive in 1992 while today's percentage is 25.1 or more than one in every four persons.
Strong safer-sex prevention programs in Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda managed somewhat to halt the unimpeded march the virus had made already in those countries. Thailand too has shown a degree of success with a reduction in HIV reports said to be occurring at a rate of 15%. New infections in Uganda have been cut by as much as 25%.
Senegal, which put safer-sex campaigns into operation prior to any major outcropping of deaths, has managed to keep its rate of infection at 2%.
Other worldwide statistics include 1997s number of children—1.6 million—who have been robbed of at least one parent by the virus. In the past 15 years approximately 8.2 million children lost either one or both parents. . In East Africa nearly half of all children aged 15 or under have been similarly orphaned.
The United Nations AIDS Program director says that AIDS is clearly shining a bright central spotlight on the true differences between "the haves and the have-nots" who live just across borders from each other.