AIDS hits worldwide high

By Julie Fann
star staff

In the early '80s the United States as a nation became shockingly aware of the deadly disease known as AIDS and the stigma surrounding it. Twenty years later, HIV continues to spread at a staggering national rate of over 40,000 new infections per year, according to AIDS Action, a Web site dedicated to AIDS awareness and eradication.
Alos, five people worldwide die of AIDS every minute of every day. HIV has hit every corner of the globe, infecting more than 42 million men, women and children - five million of them last year alone, according to the World AIDS Day Web site.
   In Nairobi, Kenya on Saturday, marches, candlelight vigils and exhibitions marketing today as World AIDS Day were reminders that deaths from the illness and new cases of HIV/AIDS reached new highs in 2003.
   And numbers are steadily on the rise in Tennessee of those with HIV/AIDS. In 2001, those diagnosed HIV-positive in Tennessee totaled 9,166, up from 8,590 in 2000 and 6,988 in 1998, according to AIDS Action.
   The AIDS Action Web site shows the number of cumulative AIDS cases for all counties in the state from 1982 to 2001, as well as cumulative HIV cases reported since Jan. 1, 1992. In Carter County, 21 cumulative AIDS cases as well as 21 HIV cases were reported during the specified time period. In Washington County, there were 126 reported AIDS cases and 135 HIV cases. The Web site listed nine with AIDS in Unicoi County, while eight are HIV-positive, and, in Johnson County, 19 people are reported as having AIDS, while 22 are HIV-positive.
   AIDS is a disease in which a virus has weakened the body's immune system and cancer or serious infections have occurred. HIV is the virus that causes a person to become susceptible to getting AIDS.
   HIV is spread most often through sexual contact, either homosexual or heterosexual; contaminated needles or syringes shared by drug abusers; infected blood or blood products, and from pregnant women to their offspring.
   "Do you have time?" is the National AIDS Trust's World AIDS Day 2003 campaign to increase awareness of HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Stigma and discrimination are major factors fueling the global HIV epidemic, creating a climate of fear and ignorance and a reluctance to confront rising infection rates, according to the World AIDS Day Web site.
   The United Nation's World Health Organization is slated to unveil a global strategy to help three million people get anti-retroviral medicine by the end of 2005. While wealthier nations have drugs readily available for treatment, poorer countries have virtually no access to medicine.
   U.N. Secretary General Koffi-Annan told reporters for Reuters that he thinks many political leaders still don't care enough to fight the disease, which has killed 28 million people since it was first reported among homosexual men in the United States in 1981.
   "I am not winning the war because I don't think the leaders of the world are engaged enough," Annan told Reuters. "I feel angry; I feel distressed; I feel helpless ... to live in a world where we have the means ... to be able to help all these patients, what is lacking is the political will."
   Ninety-five percent of all AIDS cases occur in the world's poorest countries. In several southern African countries, at least one in five adults is HIV positive. In 2000, the HIV prevalence rate among pregnant women in South Africa rose to its highest level ever: 24.5 percent - bringing to 4.7 million the estimated total number of South Africans living with the virus.
   Just under 14,000 new cases of HIV infections occur every single day worldwide.
   In recognition of World AIDS Day 2003, the Sullivan County Regional Health Department has planned community awareness activities, including a presentation given today by Don Minor, a local HIV survivor, and Mark McCalman, epidemiologist from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Monarch Auditorium at Wellmont's Bristol Regional Medical Center. The event is open to the public.
   On Dec. 5, the Sullivan County Health Department will provide free HIV testing at New Beginnings in Johnson City from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. For more information, contact Mark McCalman at 423-279-7562.