AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is an incurable disease that destroys the patient’s immune system. AIDS is caused by infection with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). HIV is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids. People can become infected by HIV through sexual contact, by using needles that are contaminated with the virus, or by coming into contact with infected blood.

The immune system of a person infected by HIV becomes weaker over time, and the person is less able to fight off infections; this process can take months or years. The final stage of HIV is the development of AIDS. As their immune systems collapse, people with AIDS become increasingly vulnerable to infection by a variety of life-threatening diseases.

HIV/AIDS is truly a global disease. While infection rates are highest in poor countries that lack developed public health services, roughly 50,000 Americans are infected every year (DeNoon, 2011). According to statistics, by the end of 2012, more than one million Americans had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS (, n.d.). Additionally, at the end of 2011, 34 million people worldwide (with 2.5 million newly infected), 23.5 million people in Sub Saharan Africa, 4.8 million in Asia, and 1.4 million in Eastern Europe and Central Asia were HIV-positive or have AIDS s


More Statistics on AIDS worldwide]

[Map outlining HIV/AIDS cases worldwide]

By taking a mixture of what are known as anti-retroviral drugs, AIDS patients can prolong their lives for many years. Many of these patients might be able to survive until an AIDS cure is developed. But AIDS medicines are very expensive, even for patients in the world’s rich countries; most people in developing countries cannot possibly afford them on their own. In addition, many developing countries lack adequate public health systems and trained health care personnel. As a consequence, they have limited capacities to educate people about how to avoid HIV infection, to distribute AIDS medicines, and to treat people with AIDS.

Successful Response to an Epidemic
Brazil was out on the forefront among nations facing the AIDS crisis. A 1996 law proposed by President Jose Sarney guaranteed every AIDS patient state-of-the-art treatment. To do this, Brazil began producing generic copies of 8 of the 12 antiretrovirals used to treat AIDS. Also, Brazil launched a World Bank-financed prevention program. Since Brazil began producing its own drugs in 1998:

  • price has fallen by an average of 79 percent
  • the epidemic has stabilized
  • Brazil has had the same number of new cases in the last three years
  • the death rate has been cut in half

The international community is responding to this global health threat in a number of ways. Through UNAIDS, the United Nations has launched an international effort to bring relief to countries that cannot afford medicines or implement prevention or treatment programs. The World Health Organization also has runs a major program on AIDS. It is partnering with UNAIDS and private companies to help countries bring their epidemics under control through prevention, treatment, and vaccine research.

Some countries, such as Brazil and India, have begun producing generic copies of name-brand medicines and distribute them to AIDS patients at a fraction of the cost of the original drugs. Developing countries in Africa and elsewhere have expressed an interest in buying these lower-priced versions of name-brand drugs.

The replication of name-brand AIDS drugs is controversial. The companies that produced the original drugs believe that the companies that copy their drugs are cheating them out of earnings. Developing country governments and some health experts say it would be immoral for people to be denied life-saving drugs simply because they cannot pay for them.

In response to the competition from manufacturers of lower-priced generic drugs, many of the U.S. and European countries that invented AIDS drugs decided to sharply discount the prices of their medicines in the world’s poorest countries.

For more information on how one developing country is responding to HIV/AIDS, see the August 2001 article by Andrey Vakhovskiy, “Winning the war on AIDS, Brazil style.”

HIV/AIDS FACTS (from the “WHO Progress report 2011: Global HIV/AIDS response”)

  • In 2010, an estimated 2.7 million people were newly infected with HIV/AIDS. There are about 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS today (est. 2010).
  • Sub-Sahara Africa accounts for two-thirds of all infected people
  • After the primary HIV infection, there are four clinical states of HIV/AIDS.
  • 390,000 children were newly infected, 30 percent fewer than the peak seen in 2002 and 2003


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