New Internationalist

HIV/AIDS the facts

Issue 346

Drowning by numbers

Twenty-two million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the disease was first discovered just over 20 years ago. Three million people died last year alone.

Thirty-six million people are now infected: 25 million in sub-Saharan Africa. In Botswana, 36% of adults have the HIV virus, in South Africa 20%.1

Regional AIDS statistics, 20011
People with HIV/AIDS
prevalence rate
Sub-Saharan Africa
28.1 million
3.4 million
N Africa and
Middle East
S and SE Asia
6.1 million
E Asia and Pacific
1 million
Latin America
1.4 million
E Europe and Central Asia
1 million
W Europe
N America
Australia and NZ
40 million
5 million


Young people in their teens and twenties are among the most susceptible to the HIV virus. Experimentation with sex and drugs combined with youthful ignorance can be a deadly combination.2

• An estimated 10.3 million people aged 15-24 are living with HIV/AIDS and 50% of all new infections, 7,000 every day, occur among young people.

• According to UNICEF over half of people aged 15-24 in more than a dozen countries, from Bolivia to Vietnam, have never heard of AIDS or have serious misconceptions about how AIDS is spread.

• Young sex workers are at especially high risk — 20% of India’s 2 million sex workers are under 15 and nearly 50% are under 18. In Cambodia, 30% of sex workers aged 13-19 are infected with HIV.


Being poor and malnourished means your body is more susceptible to infection and your options for treating the disease are limited.

• Average life expectancy is plummeting across sub-Saharan Africa. In 16 nations more than 10% of the adult population is infected. Life expectancy has dropped 17 years in more than a dozen African countries, from 64 to 47 years.1

AIDS will increase the percentage of people living in extreme poverty in Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Uganda, from 45% to 51%, by 2015.3

• Fewer people mean fewer workers and less tax income for governments. Botswana will lose 20% of public revenue by 2010 due to AIDS.

• In Jamaica and Trinidad AIDS deaths will reduce national income by 5% by 2005.


Since the mid-1990s new drugs (antiretrovirals or ARVs) have been available to control the spread of HIV. However, patents and prices are controlled by multinational drug companies and the drugs are too expensive for the majority of people with AIDS who live in the South.

Gisele Wulfsohn / Panos Pictures/
Gisele Wulfsohn / Panos Pictures/

• In 1998 the top 10 drug companies made worldwide profits of $34.7 billion on sales of $108.1 billion, one of the highest average profit margins of any industry in the world.5

• In Brazil, after the Government began producing generic ARVs, prices fell 82% and the price of the AIDS ‘cocktail’ therapy fell from $10,000 to $300 a year.5 As a result AIDS deaths have fallen by half and the country saved $677 million on treatment costs from 1997 to 2000.

• South Africa estimates it would cost $6 billion to provide ARV therapy to all South Africans living with AIDS. That’s less than a fifth of what the Government spent last year on arms and less than a sixth of the $40 billion spent paying off the apartheid-era debt each year.6

Big Pharma vs generics

Cost of daily dose of patented vs generic fluconazole*, June 20007

*Fluconazole (its generic name is diflucan) is an anti-fungal drug commonly used against oral thrush and cryptococcal meningitis, both of which attack people with HIV.

Race, class and sex

The spread of HIV/AIDS mirrors social exclusion and discrimination.

• African Americans were 12% of the US population but 47% of new AIDS cases in 2000. African American and Hispanic women made up 25% of the female population but 81% of all US AIDS cases in 1999.1

• Poverty drives women and men into risky commercial sex work which boosts the spread of HIV. In Thailand, a girl can make 25 times more as a prostitute than by working in a textile factory.8

• In the Russian Federation most new HIV infections are from intravenous drug use which has grown 300% in the last 5 years. An estimated 1% of the population is now injecting drugs.1

• In northern Senegal one study found a clear correlation between labour migration and HIV: 27% of men who had travelled in other African countries and 11.3% of their spouses were infected with HIV.8

Reversing the tide

Resources are needed urgently to care for and treat people with AIDS and to prevent further infection. The worst affected nations, struggling economically and saddled with debt, can’t do it on their own. The UN Global AIDS Fund has a target of $10 billion; about $2 billion has been promised so far.

Current spending and projected costs of HIV/AIDS programmes in low and middle-income countries9
2001 2005
Care and support $1.0 billion $4.4 billion
Prevention $0.8 billion $4.8 billion
Total $1.8 billion $9.2 billion
  1. AIDS Epidemic Update, UNAIDS, December 2001.
  2. Children and young people in a world of AIDS, UNAIDS, 2001.
  3. HIV/AIDS is wiping out fifty years of investment in development, UNAIDS Press Release, 19 March 2002.
  4. The Global Infectious Disease Threat and its Implications for the United States, US Central Intelligence Agency, January 2000. Web site:]
  5. Médicines Sans Frontières,
  6. AIDS: where to now? by Richard Pithouse, Treatment Action Campaign/University of Durban-Westville, South Africa. Web site:
  7. The Biz of AID$, Daniel Berman, Poz Magazine, April 2001.
  8. ‘AIDS in the context of development’, J Collins & B Rau, UNRISD, Dec 2000.
  9. ‘Calculating the cost of effective global campaign against HIV/AIDS’,

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This article was originally published in issue 346

New Internationalist Magazine issue 346
Issue 346

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