By Michele Leight
NEW DELHI, Oct. 14, 2000 Progress with
drugs known as anti-retrovirals has prolonged the lives of many
victims of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, but it is raging
in developing regions such as Africa and countries such as India
and China where the situation festers like a time-bomb, with extreme
poverty, ignorance and gigantic populations thrown into the already
complex socio-economic mix.
According to various reports, there are about
35 million people living with AIDS worldwide, of which less than
750,000 are Americans.
Although there is no cure yet for AIDS, the
anti-retrovirals have prolonged life for its victims for up to
10 or 15 years, offering a decent quality of life and preventing
unnecessary suffering. Without these drugs, which cut back the
full impact of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) victims
often die within two or three years.
HIV/AIDS victims in America and the Western
nations are ahead of their counterparts in the rest of the world,
especially Africa, India and China, where many HIV/AIDS victims
do not even understand that they have a deadly, infectious disease.
There has often been no commitment from government
or media in some developing areas to inform citizens of the hazards
of HIV infection, and no infrastructure to deal with those infected.
Unlike chicken pox, and other viruses which very soon manifests
itself on the victims body, the HIV virus lurks over a period
of years without outward symptoms before/if it becomes AIDS. In
Africa, governments have let things sit a little too long, and
denial in the face of hard evidence has lead to the tragic situation
now confronting Sub-Saharan Africa, where 24.5 million adults
and children are living with HIV.
The insidious nature of HIV/AIDS has lead to
the unbelievable prospect ahead for Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe
and Botswana, where at least one out of two boys now aged 15 will
eventually die of AIDS, according to a report available at http://www.unaids.org/epidemic.html.
Given the proper medications, which the Western countries have
offered, this situation could have been avoided. It is a warning
to other countries, especially India and China, not to walk the
Thailand was one of the first South East Asian
countries to succumb to AIDS, mainly because of the sex industry,
and has been addressing the problem ever since, but other countries
in South East Asia are experiencing record rises in AIDS cases.
Without regular HIV testing or a health-care
infrastructure to take care of those already infected, this creates
the perfect breeding ground for the elusive and tenacious HIV
virus, which can lurk undetected for years before it strikes
like the "plague"- cutting away the immune systems defense
mechanisms, and exposing the victim to any number of infections
and diseases which the body cannot fight, mainly tuberculosis.
After prolonged suffering, it is the bodys lack of immunity
In London on September 4, 2000, at a symposium
organized by the Royal Institute of International Affairs entitled
"We The Peoples: The UN in the 21st Century," Dr. Peter
Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Program on
HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) (http:www.unaids.org) said: "Aids is one
of the key issues shaping the world today and should rank as high
on the list of human concerns as globalization, peace and the
Dr. Piot highlighted the deadly inequalities
of health that continue to divide the world, pointing to the growing
AIDS epidemic in developing countries and calling for political
will and commitment from government. To date 18.8 million around
the world have died of AIDS, 3.8 million of them children. Nearly
twice as many, 34.3 million, are now living with HIV, the virus
that causes AIDS.
In 1999 alone, 5.4 million people were newly
infected with HIV. AIDS, according to a report available at http://www.avert.org/worldwidestats.html.
Subtracting the U.S. total of 733,374 from the above statistics
gives some idea of how fast this disease is encroaching on the
Building on the agreement reached by the UN
General Assembly, Secretary General Kofi Anan, calls for a strategy
that focuses on young people aged 15-24, and on providing care
to those living with HIV. He explicitly recommends action to reduce
HIV infection rates by 25% in the most affected countries before
2005, and globally by 2010. There will be a symposium and panel
discussion at the United Nations on the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic
in South and Southeast Asia and Thailand Nov. 30, 2000 from 9:30AM
HIV is the virus not the disease, and although
there is no cure at present for full-blown AIDS, regular testing,
proper medications (anti-retrovirals) and responsible life-styles
can dramatically lengthen and improve the quality of life for
millions of infected people around the world, as they have done
in the U.S, till a cure is found. Amongst other organizations,
the American Foundation for Aids Research (http://www.amfar.org) has been tireless in raising funds for the research
teams they fund worldwide, in the hope that they will find a cure
While the big picture in America shows the
AIDS problem improving, grass roots observers, like Chris Camp,
a gay man living in Baltimore who tested positive for HIV since
the 1980s, has a different perspective. In a report at http://www.discoveryhealth.com he writes: "The people who are on the higher
socio-economic level are the ones who seem to thrive and survive
longer. I think HIV is really coming down to an issue of class.
Your class dictates who will manage, who will survive and who
you are seeing the emergence of two almost different
diseases and, for those who are not part of the privileged crowd
and dont have the connections that can lead them to the
medications and the care, HIV is the same deadly disease it always
The U.S. is fortunate; the crisis is being
dealt with at present and is under control, but HIV is a tenacious
and sneaky virus which needs constant monitoring, especially with
the young, who are predicted to be the long term victims of HIV/AIDS
worldwide. Statistics on new infections in the U.S. indicate an
alarming increase of HIV through heterosexual transmission - and
the present situation worldwide clearly shows the disease swinging
over to the heterosexual population at epidemic levels.
Mr. Camps "socio-economic"
case is supported by the Center for Disease Controls report
on U.S HIV/AIDS Statistics, ending December 1999. According to
the report, the epidemic has shifted toward growing proportions
of AIDS cases in blacks (7%) and Hispanics (18%) and in women
(18%) and a decreasing proportion of MSM (Homosexuals). This last
group remains the single largest exposed group in the U.S. however
(43%). Blacks have outnumbered whites in new AIDS diagnosed deaths
since 1996 and in the number of people living with AIDS since
1998, and there is a disturbing statistic for female deaths
up to 23% in 1999.
The Center for Disease Control list 6.2 million
women and 3.6 million children (under 15 years of age) of the
estimated 16.3 million lost to AIDS since the epidemic began.
Women are becoming increasingly affected by HIV 46% or
14.8 million of the 32.4 million adults living with HIV and AIDS
are women, according to a CDC report at http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/stats/internat.htm.
During 1999, HIV-associated illnesses caused the deaths of an
estimated 2.6 million adults nearly half of which (1.1
million) were women and 470,000 and 470,000 children under 15.
(The number of people living with HIV and AIDS is put at somewhat
higher totals in other reports.)
A 17-year survivor of HIV and AIDS, Mr. Camp
is currently chairman of the Baltimore/Washington D.C. community
advisory boards MACS study (Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study), based
at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
Mieko Nishimizu, Vice President of the World
Bank South Asia Region, speaking recently at the Fifth International
Conference on AIDS in Asia, said that a quarterof the people infected
worldwide live in Asia. "India is now the country with the
largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world,"
he said, in a report available as news release No. 99/2250/SAS
at http://www.worldbank.org/aids.html, adding that "for leaders both in government
and in civil society to choose not to act, knowing the consequences,
would be unethical and a betrayal of their people."
By early next century, India is expected by
some experts to have the highest number of AIDS cases in the world
an estimated 37 million will be HIV infected. With a population
of a billion at present, only a small percentage are able to distinguish
the seriousness of their disease and educated enough to do something
about it. The remaining victims are too poor and too ignorant
to understand that they have AIDS and are continuing to
A few weeks ago in New Delhi, India, Nafisa
Ali, shown above, AIDS advocate and President and founder of ACTION
INDIA (http://www.actionindia.org), (an NGO, or "non government
organization"), whose aim is to raise AIDS awareness and
establish a "Holistic Aids Care Centre" in her home
city, New Delhi, spoke to this reporter of the frustrations and
sadness in confronting the problem in her country.
"We only need to look at Africa, where
villagers are being wiped out, with only the old and the young
remaining orphaned because their parents have died of AIDS
for years their government did nothing except deny they had a
problem," Ms. Ali said.
A former Miss India, model and well-known actress
in her country, (the land of Bollywood and as many movie-goers
as the rest of the world put together), Nafisa Ali starred in
"Junoon," with the legendary Shashi Kapoor in 1979 and
more recently in "Major Saab," with Amitabh Bachan,
a beloved actor nationwide who hosts the Indian equivalent of
"Do You Want To Be a Millionaire?" Ms. Ali admits to
using her "star status" to draw attention to the plight
of AIDS victims in India, a country where most of the population
cannot afford computers, the Internet and TV, but do go to a movie
and get information through the newspapers and radio.
In her own efforts to raise funds for her Aids
Shelter, Ms. Ali has been made acutely aware of the "unpopular"
nature of this cause in a country that believes that punishment
comes with risky sexual behavior, prostitution and drug abuse.
The facts, she said, show clearly, however, that the transmission
of AIDS in India is almost entirely through heterosexual contact
a staggering 80%. Raising funds for other causes has never
been a problem, but Ms. Alis solicitations on behalf of
AIDS victims are met with polite side-stepping and avoidance,
while the statistics for HIV in India continue to predict disaster.
"The youth of our country must be made aware of this threat
and practice safer lifestyles," she stressed, adding that
"India is a patriarchal society, and people must be told
that HIV infections are heterosexually transmitted."
Statistics for South and Southeast Asia from
http://www.avert.org support Ms. Alis concerns and indicate that
of the newly HIV infected adults in those regions, 30% are women,
exclusively through heterosexual transmission.
Of great concern to Ms. Ali, a mother of two
daughters and a son, is the effect that passivity will have on
"How many parents can openly and honestly
speak to their children about sex education? Statistics in our
country are proving that over 80% of all HIV positive cases are
through the sexual route and the most vulnerable age group are
those between the ages of 15 and 39. This to me is a human rights
violation. If we are putting our young at risk, then I do feel
that by not talking about adolescent hormones and the dangers
in mainstream life, we are exposing them to harm and violating
their right to a safe, long life"
The similarities in Ms. Alis comments
to the situation in Africa, or to cultures which cannot afford
or do not want to use condoms is alarming. With women not empowered
to require a condom of a husband, they are at high risk themselves,
a fear echoed by Dr. Piot, who raised the same subject at a UNAIDS
Conference in New Delhi on March 6th, 2000, titled "Men Make
a Difference." Piot stressed that more men get AIDS than
women, but they risk their wives in the process, and it is men
who can change the course of the AIDS epidemic, by changing commonly
held attitudes and behaviors, including the way adult men look
on risk and sexuality, and how boys are socialized to become men.
Boys who are brought up to believe that "real
men dont get sick" often see themselves as invulnerable
to illness or risk. Of the newly infected 5.6 million worldwide,
3.8 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa and 1.3 million in South
and South East Asia. Apart from the conditioning that condoms
are not considered "manly," they are also expensive
and not as readily available as they are in the West.
So how did a beauty queen and film star become
an AIDS advocate and the founding President of "ACTION INDIA"?
Nafisa Ali flashed a dazzling movie-star smile but immediately
became serious again:" I have used my stardom to blast
the politicians!" she said, sweetly.
"In 1992, I took my daughter for a routine
check-up to the Government childrens hospital in Madras.
My husband, "Pickles" Sodhi, who is also a well-known
Polo player, was still serving in the Army. I saw a 4-year-old
boy who was pale and pot-bellied
his limbs were wasted but
he had sparkling eyes. To my horror I learned that this child
had tested positive for HIV, during investigations for his anemia.
His mother had been transfused with a few bottles of unscreened
blood after delivery due to profuse bleeding. The mother had also
tested positive for HIV infection and transmitted the virus to
her baby most probably through her breast milk. I kept track of
the child who died two years later. I have always been interested
In his Pulitzer Prize-Winning book, "Guns,
Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies," author Jared
Diamond discusses the scenario of the "passive" microbe,
or virus syphilis, rubella and most specifically AIDS
which passes from the mother to her fetus, thereby infecting it.
He concludes that for those individuals who believe in a just
universe, the "ethical dilemma" embodied in this tragedy
produces a desperate inner struggle. ("Guns, Germs and Steel:
The Fates of Human Societies," by Jared Diamond, W. W. Norton
and Company, Inc., 1999). Condoms and anti-retrovirals are too
often not reaching the infected poor because of money, and babies
of infected mothers continue to be born to a life of suffering
In the 20th Century, smallpox claimed 300 million
lives until the vaccine for prevention began to be implemented
worldwide. It was the "plague" of societies and civilizations
throughout history, so the world is no stranger to viral epidemics.
However, unlike AIDS, within a few weeks of contracting smallpox,
without the vaccine, the victim was/is dead, according to Michael
B. A. Goldstone in his book, "Viruses, Plagues and History,"
Oxford University Press, 1998. Smallpox is no longer an issue
in developing countries; breakouts still occur but smallpox vaccines
are relatively easy to administer and implement compared with
HIV medications. With HIV/AIDS the ethical factor remains because
the medications exist, but not for everyone.
To call this disease a scourge or a plague
does not do it justice. It is not difficult to understand the
fear that those who are not infected feel when confronted with
caring for anyone, even the closest loved one; this meanest of
all viruses attacks on all fronts and renders the victim helpless,
taking the body into a physical degradation which even the most
loving friend or family member often fears. AIDS is a highly infectious
disease only when certain "body fluid connections" are
made, but with responsible and educated behaviors and attitudes,
the sufferer can be treated and cared for without risk to the
care-giver. This makes information and education on all aspects
of dealing with AIDS so vital. Without removing the fear, progress
cannot be made. The American Foundation for Aids Research (amFAR)(http://www.amfar.org)
also funds educational programs to raise awareness and dilute
the fear surrounding this disease.
Six years ago, Ms. Alis husband retired
from the Army, and the family moved to Delhi. She resolved to
explore the AIDS issue in India, and got an appointment with the
Health Minister. "A senior bureaucrat was called in and he
handed me a file on what was being done about creating awareness
of this dreadful disease, which was a Western disease!
I was quite dumfounded when the officer brushed off the aids problem
with These western organizations came to India and worked
in areas where HIV/AIDS is prevalent, for example Maharashtra,
Manipur, etc, and generate statistics from this limited exposure
are culturally not like the West
AIDS will not be a problem
"It is this blinkered view which is largely
responsible for the mess we are in today," says Ms.Ali. She
also stresses there are many NGOs now doing good work in
the field of HIV awareness, as well as some who are misappropriating
funds. She feels strongly that NACO (the National Aids Control
Organization, a governmental agency, should be expanded with the
NGOs who have done credible work and together they should be responsible
for implementing HIV/AIDS guidelines - within a broad framework
of communication in terms of HIV and human rights.
The "human right" is an important
point in countries where population control is an issue and where
many believe that a human being does not really deserve to live
if they contract a deadly disease like AIDS because of sexual
misconduct. This reporter has encountered numerous comments like
"Well, homosexuals get this," or "Its the
third world" from highly educated people of all countries,
who do not grasp that this disease is communicable through heterosexual
contact an "It can never happen to me" attitude
which is dangerous in todays AIDS climate. What people worldwide
need to understand is that AIDS is no longer the preserve of homosexuals,
needle-injecting drug users or prostitutes, but may well be present
in their own heterosexual husbands or teenage children
or, without ever being promiscuous, in themselves.
The World Bank has given India $50 million,
which Ms. Ali feels strongly should be made available to NGOs
to set up care homes to supply vital medicines to those with HIV,
so they can live longer, productive like their American and Western
counterparts, instead of dying in the first few years of infection
as outcasts spurned by a society too ignorant and moralistic
to help them die with dignity.
The cost of treating AIDS patients with anti-retroviral
drugs, which prolong life and prevent the ravages of full-blown
AIDS, costs approximately 15 to 22,000 rupees a month (between
$400 and $550), a huge amount of money to the average sufferer
in India, where there is no infrastructure to begin to deal with
regular care of this disease, not much discussion of the subject
in the media, and computers and the Internets "information
highway" beyond the dreams of most citizens.
While Nafisa Ali waits in hope for the funding
necessary for her Holistic Aids Shelter for "NAZ" Foundation
for HIV/AIDS patients, which she estimates will cost $4.5- million,
she has not been idle. The aim is to help all HIV and full-blown
AIDS cases, and sensitize families to care for their loved ones,
instead of casting them out. Moved by attending many "World
Aids Awareness Day" marches, held every December 1, she resolved
to make strong documentaries on AIDS in India. At a function in
1995, she sat down at a candle-lit dinner, where she was joined
by Mike Pandey, a film-maker, and his wife and another couple.
By the end of the evening she had been promised two documentary
As it turned out, in addition to funding the
documentaries, Mike Pandey accepted her request to make her films
on AIDS, for which he has been nominated for his second Green
Oscar. Sadly, not a single person in the Government at that time
congratulated him. Undaunted, Nafisa Ali and Mike Pandey battled
on, releasing the video "Know Aids for No Aids," on
December 1, 1999, which is available in several languages including
Hindi and English. There are approximately 200 languages and dialects
in India, which shows how vital it is to be able to reach different
segments of society, with a language barrier to overcome.
It was during the making of this documentary
that Nafisa Ali encountered the prostitute whose photograph was
taken by Ms. Ali. I am no stranger to images of human poverty
or degradation, but the photograph of this woman showed she was
in a state of physical disintegration beyond description. Most
of her body had been eaten away, but she was smiling at Ms. Ali
as she clicked her camera. Ms. Ali put it best: "This gentle
lady had developed bedsores beyond human imagination
eyes still haunt me and I dont want her death to go in vain.
It is vital to remove the stigmatization of HIV patients in India."
With the exception of the prostitutes
sister, no one would come near her to treat her and without
anti-retroviral medication to combat the virus, it turned the
smallest of bedsores into craters, exposing bones, organs, veins
all with the human being still alive. The woman in the
photograph is now dead.
A one-minute awareness message for T.V., also
by Nafisa Ali and Mike Panday, featuring high-profile cricketing
stars (who are akin to gods in India!) like Kapil Dev, Mohammed
Azrauddin and Rahul Dravid, who gave their time unselfishlessly,
has aired free of charge for the past year on Star TV (owned by
Rupert Murdoch), ESPN, Discovery Channel and Doordashan. Only
ZEE TV refused as they do not do social causes free.
Richard Gere, the Hollywood movie star famous
for his role in "American Gigolo" and other romantic
blockbuster hits, is equally well-known for his following of the
Dalai Lama. In 1998, on one of his frequent visits to India, he
lent his name to the cause of AIDS awareness as well. In an article
in the "Hindustan Times," April 11, 1998, Ms. Ali wrote
that Mr. Gere appealed to the government, the media and the public
not to condemn, segregate or refuse treatment to those infected
with HIV. He said that people were not caring enough, and shared
with the audience the great frustration and sadness - and helplessness
he felt, when close friends die.
AIDS came out of Americas closet and
went "public" in Hollywood, with Rock Hudsons
announcement to the media that he had AIDS. Shocked that the handsome
"ladies man" was a homosexual, the world watched
and waited, many assuming it was a "Western" disease.
Elizabeth Taylor - now Dame Elizabeth Taylor, courtesy of Queen
Elizabeth! - a close friend and co-star of Rock Hudson in "Giant,"
took up the AIDS cause and helped raise funds for amFAR for Aids
research and for AIDS awareness through educational programs.
Dr. Mathilde Krim, Founding Co-Chair and Chairman
of the Board of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR),
received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 9, 2000 from
President Clinton at a White House ceremony. Dr. Krim focused
on the scientists: "This Medal of Freedom must also recognize
the advances achieved by the outstanding scientists, health care
givers and defenders of human rights that amFAR has funded, as
well as the many people with HIV/AIDS who, as volunteers in treatment
and vaccine trials, have crucially sustained the pace of medical
their work is far from over in a world where 15,000
new HIV infections occur each day, and curative treatments and
protective immunization against HIV have not as yet been achieved."
Dr. Krim concluded with a reminder that 500,000
have been lost to the epidemic in America alone. Although she
is still very active, Dame Elizabeth Taylor has passed the baton
to Sharon Stone, who is currently President of amFAR, who will
be chairing Seasons of Hope," amFARs third annual
awards dinner Nov. 29, 2000 in New York commemorating world AIDS
day. (For tickets, call Sheila Charton at 212-806-1657 or for
more information about special events and benefits surf the amFAR
website at http://www.amfar.org.)
Moving and still images are forceful aids in
understanding suffering, which Ms. Ali knows well, but her photographs
also convey a deep concern for the plight of Indias millions
of women and children, who are not free to make choices taken
for granted by women in the West like who they will marry
or being able to insist upon the precaution of condoms during
sexual activity or being able to freely discuss with their children
the adverse effects of unprotected sex with deadly consequences.
In Western countries, "sex education"
in schools begins at a young age, and it is generally considered
an ethical and moral obligation to let the young know what might
happen if they do not protect themselves against HIV.
India is a land of a billion people, where
prostitutes are visited by truckers who criss-cross the country;
migrant workers and domestic staff and industrial workers are
away from families for long periods of time because their jobs
demand it. Women are vulnerable to prostitution through poverty
or sold into the sex trade, where a condom is not part of the
deal if the man does not want to use it. Smaller developing countries
face exactly the same problems, and in Thailand the AIDS epidemic,
particularly amongst sex workers, is now monitored and on the
decline because it was not ignored. The Center for Disease
Control reports that the overwhelming majority of people with
HIV, approximately 95% of the global total now live in
the developing world.
Ms. Ali has obviously done her research: "Women
should be given the right to safer sex to avoid the HIV related
consequences of their husbands or partners sexual
behavior, but due to economic consequences and cultural attitudes,
they cant, as has been proved by the World Banks survey
carried out in Calcuttas well known red light area at Sonargachi,
where sex workers did make a conscious difference. These women,
who are despised outcasts of Indian society, understood the importance
of their partners wearing condoms, the most effective shield against
HIV infection; they agreed to demand that every client wear a
condom, but it is shocking to read how some clients tear off the
condom during actual intercourse to derive maximum pleasure...do
these men value their wives at home
Where to now, I asked Ms. Ali. Her beautiful
face lit up: "Well, I hope for funding for my shelter and
I would like a reply to the material I sent to our Prime Minister
Mr. Vajpayee on what needs to be done about our attitude to AIDS,"
she said optimistically. "No reply to date!" Two years
ago Ms. Ali had great hope when her Prime Minister did issue a
statement: "When HIV appeared in India in 1986, everyone
thought it was a Western disease contracted only by sex workers
in red light areas, gay men and injecting drug users. The consequences
of that myopic view are now upon us."
This year, during his Independence Day address
to the Nation, the Prime Minister acknowledged the menace of HIV/AIDS
in India. Perhaps Mr. Vajpayee will sanction Ms. Alis Aids
Shelter, and many more around his country of a billion people.
If Mahatma Gandhi were around today, AIDS victims would be highest
on the list of "outcasts" he did so much to reinstate
Moving to Indias neighbor, China, AIDS
is taking its toll in rural areas, where blood selling has been
big business for some time, until it became a criminal offense
two years ago. The damage it seems, has been done, according to
a front-page story in The New York Times, Saturday, October
28, 2000, by Elizabeth Rosenthal, entitled "In Rural China,
a Steep Price of Poverty: Dying of AIDS." The article maintained
that "covert studies" suggest that some of the towns
in Central China have the highest localized rates of HIV in the
world as high as 20 percent. The article said that in rural
China "Blood Heads" buy illegal blood from poor donors,
and use unsterile collection methods and re-use contaminated needles
and return to donors the remaining blood once the often "pooled"
blood has been removed of the desired elements.
The article reported that local Chinese officials
have forbidden media coverage of the problem and made it clear
they do not want "outside" researchers studying the
The Chinese Government has acknowledged the
AIDS problem with needle-injecting drug users in its Western Provinces,
but not the issue of infected blood sellers cashing in on the
only commodity they have to sell their own blood
often to build houses they could not otherwise afford, according
to the story in The Times.
The illegal blood trade continues in China
because of blood shortages at hospitals, the article stated, adding
that most donors are women, because local thinking puts a lower
value on women mens blood is too precious to waste.
In the same article in The Times, Dr.
Gui Xien, a researcher from Hubei Province was quoted as stating
that in Shangcai County "the medical examinations that are
required for all Chinese citizens before marriage still do not
include AIDS testing or counseling" and "more than half
of hospitalized patients who test positive for H.I.V. are not
informed of the test results."
The world AIDS situation has proved that stigmatization,
ostracism, neglect and downright denial of this problem will not
make it go away. There is no magic-wand treatment for the sufferers,
no cure at present, but there are anti-retrovirals to prevent
suffering. In a recent e-mail, Ms. Ali remarked sadly: "In
India people want me to take up other causes which they will give
me funding for, and let AIDS victims die as they deserve."
At the forthcoming symposium at the United
Nations, Dr. Y. Shao, M.D., Phd., Deputy Director, National Center
for Prevention and Control, Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine,
will be amongst the panelists (http://www.unaids.org/whatsnew/others/un).
Two weeks after the article on AIDS in China,
The New York Times ran another front page article about
AIDS in Southeast Asia, this time focused on Burma. The Nov. 14,
2000 article, entitled "For Burmese, Repression, AIDS and
Denial," was written by Blaine Harden, who visited Burma
under the guise of a tourist, because Burmas military junta
does not take kindly to foreign reporters, especially Americans,
and for five years authorities have refused to grant journalist
visas. Burmese citizens, who have lived under the iron rule of
SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) for 38 years,
caught talking to foreign reporters can go to prison., so the
report is a valuable first-hand account of the plight of the countrys
According to the article, the World Health
Organization ranked Burma, which has been named Myanmar by the
generals, second to last of 191 nations in health-care services.
In 1952, British travel writer Norman Lewis described Burma in
"Golden Earth," as the place where "There is no
misery that manifests itself in rags and sores." Despite
World War II, Burma emerged from the war with the best civil rights,
the best health-care system and the highest literacy rate in South
The article noted that among other catastrophes
which have emerged since the generals of SLORC have taken control
of the country is the onset of AIDS, with three times the infection
rate in Thailand amongst prostitutes 47% last year
according to Dr. Chris Beyrer, a specialist in AIDS in South-East
Asia, and an epidemiologist and director of international AIDS
training at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.
Sadly, prostitutes are only the beginning of the problem.
Heroin addiction jumped dramatically in 1988,
the year that democracy was crushed and the junta gained power,
and needle-sharing in tea stalls fired an addiction rate that
Dr. Beyrer said is amongst the highest in the world with 57 percent
of needle-injecting drug users infected with HIV, the article
Shunned by their families, many young men infected
with AIDS have moved into monasteries to die, the article continued,
adding that one doctor reported treating several monks with AIDS
who told him before they died that they had contracted the disease
by shaving their heads with razors shared inside the monastery.
The Center for Disease Controls report
on its most recent statistics concludes: "By the end of 1999,
the epidemic (HIV/AIDS) left behind a cumulative total of 11.2
million AIDS orphans, defined as those having lost their mother
before reaching the age of 15. Many of these maternal orphans
have also lost their fathers
It will be interesting what the historians
of the next century will have to say about that.