Leading Article: The West's shameful complacency on Aids

Click to follow
THE PUBLICATION of yesterday's report from the United Nations' Programme on HIV and Aids should shame those in the West who thought we had beaten this problem. The figures in the report are almost beyond comprehension. The number of Aids cases is rising globally by 10 per cent a year, infecting the young more than the old, slowly killing more than 33 million people.

Aids is an unfashionable topic; it has passed out of the attention of media and public alike. The initial publicity blitz conducted by Conservative ministers in the late Eighties raised public fears along with awareness; but when most people's relatives and friends did not develop the illness, those not directly affected preferred to lapse back into their previous, comforting ignorance. Governments still have time to act, for Aids is a disease of poverty, rather than the sexual affliction it was portrayed as in the West. It kills more Africans than anyone else; in some parts of that continent, such as Kwa Zulu Natal, one in three people aged 15 to 49 has HIV. The damage to civil society, and the ability of African nations to fight their way out of poverty, may be the final blow to their development programmes. Meanwhile, richer Northern Europeans and Americans have been the recipients of powerful new drugs: there, mortality rates following infection are plummeting.

World leaders still stalling on the relief of debt might consider the delicate state of those nations afflicted with Aids. It is their poverty, their inability to educate themselves and buy drugs and contraceptives, that condemns these millions to deaths that could so easily be prevented. It is the refusal to properly fund and support UN efforts to hold back the plague that brings the evil closer to our shores. This fatal complacency should end, and end now.