Threat of Aids pandemic over outside Africa
Aids may kill more individuals that all the world’s wars grouped together, but the threat of a world pandemic is over, the World Health Organisation has officially conceded.
In a surprising about-turn, the organisation has admitted that for hetrosexuals outside of Africa Aids is not on the increase, although they insist there is still concern about some high risk groups, such as intravenous drug users, homosexual men and prostitutes.
Kevin de Cock, an epidemiologist and head of the WHO’s department of HIV/Aids, explains: ‘It is very unlikely there will be a heterosexual epidemic in other countries [outside continental Africa].
‘Ten years ago a lot of people were saying there would be a generalised epidemic in Asia – China was the big worry with its huge population. That doesn’t look likely. But we have to be careful.
‘As an epidemiologist it is better to describe what we can measure. There could be small outbreaks in some areas.’
The announcement has led to criticism at the money spent over the past 25 years, since the first outbreak of Aids, outside of Africa, however, de Cock points out: ‘Aids still remains the leading infectious disease challenge in public health. It is an acute infection but a chronic disease. It is for the very, very long haul. People are backing off, saying it is taking care of itself. It is not.’
Last year, worldwide there were 33 million people living with HIV, while 2.1 million died of Aids. In the developing world, an estimated 9.7 million are in need of anti-retroviral drugs; only 3 million receive them.
De Cock says that while the spread of the diseased amongst gay men is still cause for huge concern, they are still at pains to understand while it also continues to rise in the hetrosexual community in Africa, too.
‘It is the question we are asked most often – why is the situation so bad in sub-Saharan Africa? It is a combination of factors – more commercial sex workers, more ulcerative sexually transmitted diseases, a young population and concurrent sexual partnerships.
‘Sexual behaviour is obviously important but it doesn’t seem to explain [all] the differences between populations. Even if the total number of sexual partners [in sub-Saharan Africa] is no greater than in the UK, there seems to be a higher frequency of overlapping sexual partnerships creating sexual networks that, from an epidemiological point of view, are more efficient at spreading infection.’