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A Progress Report on the Global Fight Against Aids - 2002-12-23

It has been described by some people as one of the most, if not the most, serious health issue facing all of us. I'm talking about the HIV/AIDS crisis. It has now reached crisis proportions. We're learning more and more that the number of women for example who are infected are increasing dramatically. So, too, the number of children who are infected. While many people in advanced countries are living longer with the disease, the number of new infections is growing. Melilnda Smith now with a look at the nations facing the most severe situations. .

At the top of the list, southern Africa, with the highest rate of HIV cases on earth--30 million people. The country of South Africa has the largest number of AIDS related cases of any country in the world. A study two years ago indicated one in nine people in South Africa have been infected. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says fear and stigma associated with the disease is as harmful as the epidemic itself.

“Let us not stigmatize people who live with AIDS, let us show compassion and caring. Let us do all we can to overcome the scourge. We overcame apartheid, we will overcome AIDS.”

Southern Africa’s economy is affected by the disease. As more people are stricken, fewer wager earners provide income. Life expectancy in general has declined. The medical treatments for HIV and AIDS are too expensive for the poor. That’s also true in India, the world’s second most populous nation. The number of AIDS-related cases in India places it second only to South Africa. Some studies estimate that by the year 2010, India will have the most HIV victims in the world, as many as 20 to 25-million. Treating victims is complicated because health workers often refuse contact with those who are infected. David Miller of the U.N. AIDS control organization says much more needs to be done to promote AIDS awareness.

“We need you to help us to fight this epidemic and we need you to learn as much as you can about HIV, so that you can talk to your friends, talk to your families, increase the understanding, increase the respect, increase the inclusiveness and show that you will live and let live.”

In China, many that suffer from AIDS are afraid of revealing their identity because of discrimination. In Beijing workers must pass an AIDS test to be legally employed. At a ceremony marking world AIDS day, this farmer, infected by selling illegal blood, described the reluctance of rural Chinese to be tested.

“Those who get infected don’t know themselves that they have got the HIV virus, they don’t want to get tested. Because if they then find out that they are positive, they won’t be able to afford the medicine.”

While the cost of foreign medicine has dropped, and cheaper Chinese drugs are now in production, the availability of either, at prices most Chinese could afford, is a long way off. 30-year old Ren is HIV positive.

“It would still be really difficult for many people to afford 100 to 200 yuan per month for a drug cocktail, infected people like me just couldn’t afford so much money a month, not to mention 400 to 500 yuan.”

The Chinese- made drugs will be available in late December. While the scientific progress in the treatment of AIDS is encouraging, the human struggle against the disease is still heartbreaking. For example, in Cambodia, this young girl’s struggle to sit up is painful to watch. She weighs just 11 kilograms, but for the first time in days she is hungry for a teaspoon of rice. She has no mother, no father, and is wracked by the AIDS virus. John Tucker of the Maryknoll mission says like a growing number of children in Cambodia she was infected at birth:

“Their mothers were HIV positive and during the birth process they were infected also.”

Thousands of AIDS orphans in Cambodia have been rejected by relatives who cannot afford their medical care. Tia Phalla of the Cambodian AIDS authority.

“Due to the scenario that we found, it is likely that we are losing like 230,000 people due to HIV AIDS by the year 2010.”

While the numbers don’t compare to the scale of sub-Saharan Africa, Cambodia has one of the highest numbers of AIDS cases in Asia. Yet there is good news: since 1995 new infections have been dropping dramatically. Authorities have launched a public education campaign, warning of the dangers of unprotected sex and promoting the use of condoms. From soldiers to schoolchildren, the government is trying to make sure that everyone in Cambodia is getting the message.