World AIDS Day: HIV Pandemic Surging
Despite Advances, Record Numbers Dying of AIDS
Nov. 30, 2005 - Everybody worries about bird flu. Does anybody still worry
Worldwide, bird flu has killed 68 people. It might kill tens of millions if
it ever becomes a human epidemic. Yet AIDS continues to spiral out of control
-- even in parts of America.
As of Dec. 1 -- the 18th World AIDS Day -- the global AIDS epidemic has
killed 25 million people. Last year saw 3.1 million AIDS deaths. If they don't
get AIDS drugs, 6 million more people will die in the next year or two.
New HIV infections have surged to a record high: an estimated 40,300,000
people. That's 5 million more than last year. The U.N. has a stated
"millennium development goal" of reversing this tide by the year 2015.
That's only 10 years away, notes Paul De Lay, MD, director of monitoring and
evaluation for the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
"We are generally not surprised by the relentless increase in scale of
the AIDS epidemic," De Lay tells WebMD. "Everyone is hopeful we will
start to see the corner being turned and see the epidemic level eventually come
down. We are showing increases in the ability to prevent infections and treat
people. But the rate of scaling up is just not fast enough."
Yet De Lay sees glimmers of hope. He's not alone, says Carlos del Rio, MD,
chief of medicine at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital and former AIDS czar for
"We are not still in a period of total pessimism," del Rio tells
WebMD. "It is a mixed bag. The AIDS epidemic is gaining ground, but there
is also increasing international awareness and recognition of the importance of
the problem. Even though an incredible number of people are infected daily, we
are making progress. You would like to see more, but there are hopeful signs on
U.S.: Sick Patients Fill City AIDS Wards
It may surprise you to hear one of the things that most troubles De Lay.
"One discouraging development is what's happening in high-income places,
such as the U.S. and Australia," he says. "We see epidemics that were
under pretty good control starting to surge. That is because of complacency and
reduction in resources. If you go off your guard and let good programs slip, it
doesn't take long for the AIDS epidemic to come back."
At Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital, del Rio sees too many patients who
find out they have HIV only when they come down with the devastating infections
that signal full-blown AIDS.
"In the U.S., we have gone from a period of a lot of successes to a
period of not so many successes," del Rio says. "The epidemic in this
country continues strong. It is increasingly affecting people who are poor and
underserved, people with substance-abuse and mental-health issues, people who
are hard to get in care and keep in treatment."