The AIDS Epidemic: The Price of Death

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Last updated: April 20, 2019

In 1981 a new and dangerous disease began to spread throughout the world.

This sexually transmitted disease would later become known as AIDS. AIDS is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, a disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This virus attacks and weakens the immune system, which makes the body susceptible to infections and diseases. AIDS can affect anyone who has had sex with an infected individual (vaginal, oral, and anal) or shared contaminated needles, syringes, or blood products.It can pass to an unborn child by means of breast-feeding. The diseases a person might contract from the weakened immune system are called opportunistic infections because they take advantage of the body’s damaged line of defense. Most researchers believe that the virus began in Africa, where most AIDS cases currently exist.

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While there are drugs on the market aimed at suppressing the disease, these drugs are manufactured and sold at exceedingly high prices, and most Africans cannot afford to pay for the treatments. It is because of this that 28. million Africans now live with the HIV virus, making the epidemic in Africa one of the worst to have in human history (UNAIDS/WHO “AIDS Epidemic Update…

). Nelson Mandela, a widely known AIDS awareness supporter once stated, “AIDS kills those on whom society relies on to grow crops, work in the mines and factories, run the schools and hospitals, and govern the countries. It creates new pockets of poverty when parents and breadwinners die and children leave school to support the remaining children” (The Foundation for Democracy in Africa.

“Economic Effects. “).High costs for AIDS drugs have been the cause for major effects on the economy, frequent mother to child transmission of the virus, and slumping effects on education in Africa. As mentioned before, there are a few AIDS drugs on the market aimed at suppressing AIDS. Even so, there is no vaccine, no cure, and only limited and expensive means of temporarily negating its effects and making life for the sufferer more tolerable. There are two major classes of drugs that prevent the disease from multiplying, reverse transcriptase inhibitors (RT) and protease inhibitors.Reverse transcriptase inhibitors interfere with an enzyme essential to the production of a new virus, significantly slowing the onslaught of the disease. Protease inhibitors, on the other hand, attack the virus in the later stages of its development.

Usually these two kinds of drugs are mixed to form “cocktails. ” Scientists are currently working on two classes of vaccines for HIV: a therapeutic vaccine and a preventive vaccine. The addition of these two vaccines would contribute to slowing the spread of the virus.

However, immense research must still be done because the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must approve the vaccines before they are allowed on the market. The FDA approved the first RT inhibitors in 1987.

Eight years later, in 1995, the first protease inhibitors were released on the market. While these drugs have helped notably in containing the AIDS virus worldwide, there is still an obvious need for even more drugs, as different strains of the virus arise.The drugs aimed at suppressing the AIDS disease are sold at overly high prices. The cost of treatment and care for those Africans infected with AIDS would be approximately $1. 5 billion a year. Even though there is public pressure to lower drug prices, UN-sponsored discussions with pharmaceutical corporations, and competition from generic drug manufacturers, have helped drive antiretroviral drug prices down, the price for AIDS treatment is $10,000 a year per family (Finkel, David).

This may be why only one percent of the AIDS drugs sold worldwide are sold in sub-Saharan Africa despite the percentage of AIDS infected people. Despite price reductions by pharmaceutical companies seeking African subjects for vaccine and drug testing, the poor or middle classes will still generally not be able to afford these drugs without economic support. Fewer than 25,000 of the infected people in Africa (28. 1 million) actually receive treatment. The pharmaceutical companies claim that they need to charge high prices to offset the cost of research and development.However, it is clear that it must not come down to the cost of drugs, but must take into account the cost of lives, and how pharmaceutical companies and other countries can help. With such high prices and little availability of drugs, every moment of research is crucial to the survival of millions. The cost of AIDS drug treatments has not only affected the people of Africa, it has also impacted the economy of Africa.

More than one-fourth of working age adults in Africa are infected with HIV, which reduces productivity.Several companies in Zimbabwe have reported that AIDS costs them one-fifth of their company earnings. These poor economic conditions lead to the spread of AIDS and the spread of AIDS worsens the economic climate of Africa. This is a never ending cycle that has left three-fourths of the African population trying to survive on less then two dollars a day. An economic crisis, which started in the 1980s, caused several African governments to reduce funding for health services.

Since Africa has a low status in the world economy, this leads to major problems in trying to slow down the spread of AIDS, because richer countries are not largely concerned with what occurs in Africa. If businesses do not involve themselves in the intervention and prevention programs and, more importantly help make drugs more accessible, sub-Saharan Africa will be further marginalized in the expanding global economy. One of the most rapidly occurring problems is mother to child transmission of the virus.Women are more frequent victims of this sexually transmitted disease, then are men. Most of the women contract the disease from prostitution, a money-earning job that has gained popularity since the decline of the African economy.

It has also been proven that HIV is passed with greater ease from men to women; but the men who do have HIV often believe that having sexual intercourse with a virgin will eliminate the disease from his body. In Zimbabwe, the rate of new infection is 6 times greater in girl’s ages 15 to 19 then of boys the same age.The primary culprit: older men. Also affecting women is their lack of marital rights.

Women are powerless to demand safer sex from husbands, casual sex partners, or partners in for sex-for-money exchanges. Women are also afraid to participate in prevention programs if their husbands oppose it; violence is all too common cost. This leads to the frequent and fatal mother to child transmissions that have affected Africa all too much. In some African countries, twenty-five percent of the pregnant women are infected with HIV.Such is the case in Zambia, where thirty to forty percent of infants born to HIV infected mothers will contract and eventually develop AIDS, dying within two years (HIV and the women in Africa). These babies contract the disease mainly by breast feedings, and, as stated by John L.

Mica, “Nine of out every 10 infants infected with HIV at birth or through breast feeding live in sub-Saharan Africa. ” (Mica, L. John) Without preventive therapy, up to one-third of the babies in Africa will become infected with AIDS and die before the age of eight.This preventive therapy more often than not, is too expensive for more then three-fourths of the infected. AIDS has an immense effect on education. Families often remove girls from school to care for sick family members, jeopardizing the girls’ future and prospects. School enrollment has fallen thirty-six percent due to AIDS, with girls being most affected. At the same time, the cost of AIDS treatment depletes monetary resources that would otherwise be used to cover necessities and to invest in their children’s future.

Yet, school dropouts have not been the only problem.Another effect has been the toll on teachers. In Nairobi, Kenya, 4 teachers are dying a month, meaning that in two to three years, there will be a serious shortage of teachers. AIDS was noted as the cause of eighty-five percent of the 300 teacher deaths that occurred in Kenya in 2000 (UNAIDS/WHO “AIDS Epidemic Update”).

Already by the late 1990s the toll had forced the closure of more than 100 educational establishments in the Central African Republic alone. This crisis in education caused by AIDS will worsen the economic crisis and turn into a political one. Imagine,” says Meshack Ndolo from Kenya’s National AIDS Council, “if the epidemic can affect school enrollment and primary school completion, what that means to a country that calls itself developing.

” (The Foundation for Democracy in Africa. “Economic Effects…

“) Still, National AIDS programs have yet to make their way into schools. Peace Corps workers will start implementing them later this year, and hopefully allow for cheaper drugs to enter the system, allowing families to continue to send their children to school.With these horrifying affects looming closer and closer to disaster, African nations are scrambling to get help. Countries have started providing antiretroviral drugs through the health system, and several worldwide governments are launching programs to help. Thirty-one countries in sub-Saharan Africa have now completed a national AIDS/HIV strategic plan, and twelve are in the process. The UN general assembly has also offered cooperation by setting a goal to reduce the proportion of infants infected with HIV by fifty percent by 2010 (UNAIDS/WHO. “AIDS Epidemic Update..

. ).Now that there is a global mobilization against the epidemic, there is a great possibility that advances in immunization against HIV in the next few years will be made, and the number of new infections is decreasing. Thanks to the government programs, the situation appears to be stabilizing. Yet the epidemic is in no way defeated, there is still a great need for better provision of condoms and other safe sex items, not to mention a need to lower drug prices and make them more available to the poor. In 1997, only $650 million was spent on all African AIDS programs (Russel, Sabin).There is still a need for more money if research is to be done for new antiretroviral drugs.

The only reliable way to stop the spread of AIDS is to decrease the high rate of unprotected sex, but unfortunately African nations are far from doing so. In conclusion, high costs for reverse transcriptase inhibitors and protease inhibitors, the two major classes of AIDS drugs on the market, have worsened the problems in sub-Saharan Africa. These include a dangerously recessive economy, frequent mother to child transmissions, and a potentially politically damaging effect on education.Having better access to antiretroviral drugs would allow most of these problems to be solved eventually. Some African countries have implemented programs to help give their citizens access to AIDS drugs and their success has been proven in a declining infection rate. Even so, sixty percent of the AIDS infected world population resides in sub-Saharan Africa, clearly showing that much more needs to be done. If something is not done, Africa will eventually develop into an economic, social, and political disaster.

It will fall further behind the world and, eventually not be able to be pulled back up.

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