The worldwide AIDS epidemic continues to grow at an alarming rate, particularly in Africa and Asia, according to new data presented in Florence, Italy, last week at the Seventh International Conference on AIDS.
There have now been 8 million to 10 million adults infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, according to updated figures presented in Florence. In addition, 1 million children may have been born infected.
By the year 2000, the World Health Organization projects that 40 million individuals will have been HIV-infected. The vast majority will live in developing countries and become infected through heterosexual intercourse.
There has been a sharp increase in infections in South and Southeast Asia, particularly in India and Thailand. The number of infections in those two countries alone is approaching 1 million.
The explosive growth of the epidemic also continues in sub-Saharan Africa, where as many as one of every 40 adults may be HIV-infected. Projected deaths from AIDS may wipe out the gains in child survival and life expectancy achieved over the last two decades, and could lead to economic and political destabilization, according to the WHO.
The cumulative global total of actual AIDS cases now stands at more than 1.5 million, according to WHO estimates. There is no global record of AIDS deaths, although in the United States, more than 113,000 have been reported to federal health officials.
Infected persons often go years without exhibiting any symptoms, and reporting is incomplete, particularly in developing countries. As a result, health officials stress that reported AIDS cases represent only the "tip of the iceberg."
The WHO says that those people at the highest risk of becoming infected with HIV include 250 million to 500 million heterosexuals who have sex with multiple partners, 10 million to 20 million gay men with multiple partners, and 5 million to 10 million intravenous drug users.
How is HIV transmitted?
Type of exposure Percentage of global total Blood transfusion 3-5% Infected mother to child 5-10% Sexual intercourse 70-80% (total) Vaginal intercourse 60-70% Anal intercourse 5-10% Injecting drug use 5-10% Health care needle sticks, etc. less than 0.01%
How likely is HIV to be transmitted in a single exposure?
Type of exposure Efficiency of transmission per single exposure Blood transfusion greater than 90% Infected mother to child 30% Sexual intercourse 0.1-1.0% Injecting drug use 0.5-1.0% Health care needle sticks, etc. less than 0.5%
Source: World Health Organization, 1991 estimates
* How are HIV infections distributed around the globe? Global total: About 10.5 million HIV infections North America: 1 million Latin America: 1 million Europe: 500,000 Africa: 6 million adults and 900,000 children born to HIV-infected mothers. Middle East: 30,000 Soviet Union: 20,000 South and Southeast Asia: 1 million China: 20,000 Australia and New Zealand: 30,000