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VOA-TV Interview - 2002-12-05


Host David Borgida talks with Mary Fanning, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.

MR. BORGIDA
December 2nd, as many of you know, is World AIDS Day. There is not a lot of encouraging news to report, sadly, this year. And joining us to provide a brief status report on this is Dr. Mary Fanning, of the National Institutes of Health here in Washington. Dr. Fanning, thanks for joining us.

Sobering, I guess, is probably one word to describe where we are, but go ahead and give us what you think is a fair assessment of the situation we face worldwide in terms of AIDS.

DR. FANNING
Well, I think AIDS has really expanded in the last year. We've certainly become aware of more of it, with 5 million new cases worldwide. We are looking at about 40 million cases, with a lot of new areas exploding pretty well.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, why? Why is that? If there are more medicines available, why the explosion?

DR. FANNING
I think the medication has been available in developed countries and has been extremely successful at keeping the numbers low -- in the United States, for example, where we have less than a million cases. But in Sub-Saharan Africa is really where 30 million cases are at this point, and 3.5 million in the last year were newly diagnosed.

MR. BORGIDA
And more cases in China as well and other places; Russia as well. Why those countries?

DR. FANNING
I think that there has just been a delay in the epidemic reaching those populations. And one of the things that concerns us is whether or not we are just at the tip of the iceberg of understanding how large the problem is in those countries. We are just starting to measure rates and find out what's going on.

MR. BORGIDA
Another interesting phenomenon, Dr. Fanning, and that is apparently more women are victims of AIDS. Why is that?

DR. FANNING
This seems to be mostly due to the Sub-Saharan Africa populations, where more than half of the infected people are women. And I think it is related primarily to access to information and prevention among women, which is much less than for the men, and women marrying older men, who have a much greater chance of being HIV-infected, because there aren't men their age.

MR. BORGIDA
What about children throughout the world, the saddest victims of all of this?

DR. FANNING
I think in that area, again, we are seeing a lot of cases among children, but there have been some important breakthroughs in this past year. And NIAID has sponsored a study on this, and also CDC, looking at a single dose of a drug called nevirapine, to prevent mother-infant transmission. And it is about 50 percent effective. And it really is going to make a difference as we launch a large program across the world to try to prevent maternal-child transmission.

MR. BORGIDA
You're leading me to where I want to go next in our final minute or so. And that is the medicines that are out there -- promising, not so promising? Are you hopeful that we can turn the corner on this?

DR. FANNING
I think the difficulty that we face in looking at AIDS as a global problem is that we have to do more than just medication. Medication, prevention strategies, all of these things have to be applied in countries where the health care system also needs to be built up a little bit in order to be able to deal with all of this. That's the thrust of NIAID's research program, and we have already started to do all of that.

MR. BORGIDA
Let's all hope that the research can continue. Dr. Mary Fanning, of the National Institutes of Health, here in the Washington area. Thanks so much for joining us, Dr. Fanning. We appreciate it.

DR. FANNING
Thank you.

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