By Peter Boyle
MELBOURNE — December 1 is World AIDS Day. According to the World Health Organisation, between 9 and 11 million adults are HIV positive and an additional 1 million children are estimated to have been born with the virus. By the year 2000, WHO expects there will be 40 million HIV-infected adults and 10 million infected children. One out of every 100 people will be infected.
The epidemic has hit different parts of the world unevenly. While affluent countries are making some progress in controlling it, AIDS is spreading at a quickening pace in the Third World. In Africa, one in 40 adults is infected, but the greatest explosion of the epidemic has been in South and South-East Asia, where the rate of infection has doubled in the last few months.
Third World countries cannot afford either to mount successful preventive campaigns or to treat infected people. Hence the mortality rate is much higher than in the wealthy countries. Tackling the AIDS epidemic on a world scale requires more than a medical effort. It also requires a fundamental redistribution of wealth and resources.
According to the WHO, 70% of HIV transmission is through heterosexual intercourse. This demolishes the myth that AIDS is a homosexual disease.
Australia prides itself as a country with a good record in combating AIDS. There are 15,000 HIV positive people, and less than a quarter of those have full-blown AIDS. But the impact of the disease is serious enough even here. In Victoria, 370 people have died of it, 100 in the last year.
Despite its international reputation, Australia is not doing everything right, according to Melbourne AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT-UP) activists. On World AIDS Day they will protest against threats to close down the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, where the state's best AIDS treatment is currently available. The protest will be at City Square at 1 p.m.
Other activities on the day will include a festival to raise funds for the WHO efforts in Africa and Asia. Details of all activities are available from the Victorian AIDS Council, (03) 417 1759.