HIV/AIDS A Global Threat to Civilization and Development

By Mahmud Hassan

UNDP in its sixth Annual Human Development report published in March 1996 expressed concern over the emerging threat of HIV/AIDS. The words of caution and subsequent advice to the nations of the world is worth mentioning here: "Government that do not take the AIDS threat seriously now, or shy away from action because of cultural or religious sensitivities will pay the price later. More resources political commitments and innovation need to be brought to bear against this pandemic, while still maintaining adequate attention to other health challenges".


More than four years have passed since then. By this time HIV/AIDS has been identified not only as one of the world's leading public health problems but also as a major threat to civilization and overall human development. It is perhaps time to ask how has Bangladesh Government responded to this problem? What degree of concern has it shown, what measures has it put in place and what plans it made to face a probable attack of HIV/AIDS? Perhaps the answer to these questions in depressingly 'little' and disappointingly 'few.' Reasons behind this may be the fact that HIV/AIDS situation in Bangladesh is not that alarming till now.

Recently released UNDP sponsored article "HIV/AIDS and Poverty" by Ms Geeta Sethi, Programme Co-ordinator, UNAIDS published in local dailies is a timely and positive intervention. (The Daily Star 17 October 2000). It is undoubtedly thought-provoking. I write this to complement Ms Geeta Sethi and try to throw light on this global threat to humanity and development. Ms Geeta Sethi's conclusive statement," Poverty, therefore, increases vulnerability and the likelihood of contracting HIV as well decreases the opportunities to prevent infection" is supported by facts and figures.

HIV and AIDS are two recently emerged terms which now need no introduction and explanation to the people of the world in general. AIDS (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome) entered into human vocabulary in 1981 followed by HIV in 1986. Now HIV and AIDS go inseparably. AIDS was to enter the world's consciousness as a result of a dawning awareness of the advent of strange new disease first reported in California in early 1981. It is caused by a special kind of retrovirus which was afterwards officially designated as HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) in May 1986 by a sub-committee of the International Committee on the Toxonomy of Viruse.

The appearance of HIV/AIDS has touched many aspects of our society and our daily lives. It has now become one of the world's leading public health problems and for many countries, a major setback in human development. The scale in the setback in human development has been confirmed by a UNDP Study carried out by a group of researchers at the Columbia University and the Harvard Institute for International Development. Countries from all regions of the world lost on an average 1.3 years of human development progress. And in some countries the setback was particularly severe for Zambia more than ten years, Tanzania eight years, Rwanda seven years and the Zimbabwe lost between three and five years. The study report revealed that the losses would continue to mount especially in such countries as India, Myanmar and Thailand where the AIDS Threat is becoming increasingly visible. For example, there were very few HIV positive cases reported until the early 1990s in Thailand, now it is estimated that there are between 200,000 to 400,000 individuals with HIV inflections although most of these are well at present, many will develop AIDS over the next few years.

At present 33.6 million people of the world are infected with AIDS. Every one person in 100 in the age group 15-49 is inflected with HIV in the world. Up to 1990 about 12.4 million people died on this disease. On an average 16,000 people are being infected daily. 95 per cent of the AIDS victims belong to developing countries of which 50 per cent belong to age group 15-24. It is high time to respond to and intervene in this looming epidemic both nationally and globally. HIV/AIDS is no more any country-specific, it is now a global curse and we are to combat it globally. Though globalisation offers great opportunities for human advance, at the same time it is also creating new threats to human security. The problem of HIV/AIDS is no more an isolated problem of any indivisual or any certain community, it has become the part of everybody's life and economy and thus needs to be addressed, understood and analyzed in its totality. Being the inhabitants of a Global village, we cannot escape the risk of being vulnerable.

To address this global endemic disease by taking appropriate steps to create public awareness is the demand of the day. We need a solid foundation on the study of HIV/AIDS that will enable us to respond to this problem with particular focus on its social, cultural and psychological perspective. However, the number of people and range of professions likely to be involved in dealing with the problem of HIV/AIDS is increasing worldwide. Regular updating of knowledge in this rapidly evolving field is a demand of the time.

It is unfortunate that we still have no effective cure for the disease. There is no effective vaccine or even sign that a really effective vaccine is about to go on trial. Hypothetically, if an effective vaccine is developed tomorrow, it would be years before it could be distributed on a global scale. At the present moment avoidance of the behaviour that transmits HIV/AIDS remains the only hope for the control of this disease. So we need to disseminate the necessary messages, information and words of caution to the people in a co-ordinated and regimented manner. And for this we need a comprehensive and effective practical response to the problem of HIV/AIDS. To implement this we need global co-operation. UNDP can play a vital and pioneering role in this respect.

Source: The Daily Star, December 5, 2000