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AIDS in Perspective

Worldwide, more than 33 million people are infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and nearly 14 million are already dead of the disease. To gain a perspective of this global epidemic as it stood worldwide at the close of 1998, explore the map below and scroll down to see the bulleted information.

Map 1: When the AIDS Epidemic Began

The data was drawn from a December 1998 update on the epidemic by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization.

Hard Facts
  • More than 47 million people have been infected by HIV since the epidemic began in the late 1970s. Nearly 14 million have died of AIDS.

  • In 1998 alone, AIDS deaths totaled some 2.5 million. Malaria, another of the world's top five killers, causes over one million deaths a year. But malaria is a mature epidemic, while AIDS is a still-emerging one whose death toll rises every year.

  • By the end of 1998, the number of people living with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) had grown to an estimated 33.4 million, which is 10 percent more than one year before. Globally, 1.1 percent of adults have been infected with HIV, and they continue to be at the rate of 16,000 a day.

  • More than 95 percent of all HIV-infected people now live in the developing world, which has likewise experienced 95 percent of all deaths to date from AIDS.

  • Eleven men, women, and children around the world were infected per minute during 1998—close to six million people in all.

  • Around half of new HIV infections are in people aged 15 to 24, the range in which most people start their sexual lives. In 1998, nearly three million young people became infected with the virus, equivalent to more than five young men and women every minute of the day, every day of the year.

  • By the same token, one-tenth of newly infected people were under age 15, which brings the number of children now alive with HIV to 1.2 million. Most of them are thought to have acquired their infection from their mother before or at birth, or through breastfeeding.

  • Africa, the global epicenter of the epidemic, continues to dwarf the rest of the world on the AIDS balance sheet. On the continent today, 21.5 million adults and a further one million children are living with HIV . In 1998 alone, AIDS will have caused an estimated two million African deaths—5,500 funerals a day. In addition, at least 95 percent of all AIDS orphans have been African.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit (see chart). In 1998, 70 percent of all people who became infected with HIV, and 80 percent of those who died of AIDS, came from this region, even though only a tenth of the world's population lives in Africa south of the Sahara.

  • In North America and Western Europe, new combinations of anti-HIV drugs continue to reduce AIDS deaths significantly. In 1997, for example, the death rate for AIDS in the United States was the lowest in a decade—almost two-thirds below rates recorded just two years earlier. But since new infections continue to occur while antiretroviral drug cocktails keep already infected people alive, the proportion of the population living with HIV has actually grown.

  • During 1998, North America and Western Europe recorded no progress in reducing the number of new infections. During 1998 alone, nearly 75,000 people became infected with HIV, bringing the total number of North Americans and Western Europeans living with HIV to almost 1.4 million.

Source: AIDS Epidemic Update—December 1998, published by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization.

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