AIDS Death Toll ‘Likely’ to Surpass That of Bubonic Plague, Expert Says in British Medical Journal Special Issue on HIV/AIDS
AIDS -- which has already killed 25 million people worldwide -- will overtake the bubonic plague as the "world's worst pandemic" if the 40 million people currently infected with HIV do not get access to life-prolonging drugs, according to a public health expert, Reuters/Contra Costa Times reports. "Despite the impressive advances in medicine since [the time of the bubonic plague], HIV/AIDS is likely to surpass the Black Death as the worst pandemic ever," Peter Lamptey, Family Health International AIDS Institute president, writes in a report in the Jan. 26 issue of the British Medical Journal, which is a theme issue on HIV/AIDS (Reaney, Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 1/24). Bubonic plague, which is also known as the Black Death, killed 40 million people in Asia and Europe in the 1300s, wiping out about 25% of Europe's population, the Hamilton Spectator reports. Similarly, 25% to 30% of young adults in some African populations are HIV-positive. Lamptey noted that 95% of the 14,000 people who become infected with the virus each day live in the world's poorest countries, where drug treatment is not readily available and HIV prevention programs often fail because of a lack of resources and international commitment. "We need the resources, we need the political commitment and will to be able to reverse the situation," Lamptey concluded (Bouchez, Hamilton Spectator, 1/25).
Political Will, Drugs Needed
"[L]ack of political will" is keeping these drugs from HIV-positive people, Zackie Achmat of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign writes in a separate commentary in the journal. According to Institute for Healthcare Improvement President and CEO Donald Berwick, writing in an "Education and Debate" column, drug companies "could hold the key to fighting AIDS," as "modern drugs can improve the lives of people with HIV by years, even decades, but their high costs are often cited as the reason why poor countries cannot develop effective infrastructures for the care of patients." However, GlaxoSmithKline Chair Richard Sykes writes in a commentary that the cost of drugs is "too eas[ily]" named as the primary barrier to treatment for those in developing countries (BBC News, 1/25).
BMJ Challenges Community
In an editorial, BMJ said that the special issue is meant to "challeng[e] the global community to overcome its amnesia and fatigue, mobilize its ample collective resources, and make 2002 the turning point in tackling HIV." The editorial says that the need for justice "dominates" the issue, adding that "authors in this week's BMJ demand actions that are based on justice: the distribution of antiretroviral drugs to the world's poorest people; the empowerment of women; the urgent search for an HIV vaccine; and the care and education of children orphaned by AIDS" (Yamey/Rankin, BMJ, 1/26). The entire issue is available for free online.