AIDS Pandemic Seen
Worsening Next Century
BOSTON (Reuters) -- Unless the search for a cure for AIDS accelerates or preventive methods improve, the worst of the HIV epidemic has yet to come, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases predicted Wednesday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, said, "What began as a handful of recognized cases among homosexual men in the United States has become a global pandemic of such proportions that it clearly ranks as one of the most destructive microbial scourges in history.
"Unless methods of prevention, with or without a vaccine, are successful, the worst of the global pandemic will occur in the 21st century," he said.
In the United States, the number of new HIV cases each year has leveled off at 40,000 people, half of them under 25.
However, the number of new cases elsewhere is growing rapidly.
"Sub-Saharan Africa (is) currently bearing the greatest burden of the epidemic worldwide," Fauci said. The infection rate in the former Soviet Union "has escalated sharply over the past few years," and the virus threatened to invade the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
"An estimated 5.8 million new HIV infections occurred worldwide during 1998 -- approximately 16,000 each day. More than 95 percent of these new infections occurred in developing countries," he said.
Some 2.3 million people worldwide died last year from contracting the human immunodeficiency virus, which leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
"If the current trend ... continues, more than 40 million people will be infected with HIV as we enter the new millennium," Fauci said.
He said "minimizing the destructive impact of this epidemic will require partnerships between the public and private sectors as well as a stronger political will among the nations of the world."