World AIDS Report Says
Disease Growing To
'Black Plague Magnitude'
By Steve Sternberg
The global AIDS epidemic mushroomed by 10% last year, with 11 new infections a minute, a report released Monday says.
All told, more than 33 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, the AIDS virus. Half of all new infections occur in people 15 to 24 years old, according to the annual World AIDS Day Report by UNAIDS, the U.N. AIDS program.
''This is gloomy news,'' says Peter Piot, UNAIDS director. ''We have no reason to be optimistic, though some countries are doing well.''
In Sub-Saharan Africa, still the epicenter of the global pandemic, 22 million people are infected with HIV, and about 12 million people have died - 25% of them children.
So many people are dying that experts estimate about 5,500 funerals are held each day.
Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe have the highest infection rates, Piot says. Although these countries became AIDS hot spots only recently, HIV dwells in 20% to 26% of people between 15 and 49.
In South Africa, 3 million people are infected, and the epidemic is growing faster than perhaps anywhere else in the world, Piot says.
''We are watching something of black-plague-like magnitude play out in our time,'' says Seth Berkley, director of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, New York, noting that a vaccine is the ''best solution'' to the pandemic.
To speed the pace of vaccine development, his group will announce plans this week to contribute $9 million for research into two prototype vaccines made to combat the HIV strains now ravaging Africa.
New AIDS drugs, too expensive for most sufferers to afford, have eased the burden somewhat in the United States and Western Europe, researchers say. These drugs have reduced the U.S. death rate by 66% between 1995 and 1997.
Prevention efforts in advanced nations have not yet paid off. In the United States, 75,000 people became infected in 1998, about as many as the year before. AIDS remains the leading killer of young black men and the second leading killer of young black women.
Among other findings: * Nearly 2 million people are infected in Latin America and the Caribbean, with 200,000 new infections last year. * About 270,000 people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are infected, with 80,000 new cases reported last year. The hot spots: Ukraine, the Russian Federation, Belarus and Modova.