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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 00:22 GMT
Aids toll 'will surpass Black Death'
HIV cells
Aids is notoriously difficult to target with vaccines
Aids will surpass the Black Death as the world's worst pandemic if the 40 million people living with HIV/Aids do not get life-prolonging drugs, a medical expert has warned.

In terms of illness and death HIV/Aids is soon likely to surpass the Medieval killer plague, Peter Lamptey, president of the US-based Family Health International Aids Institute writes in the British Medical Journal.

The illness has killed 25 million people since the early 1980s and an estimated 14,000 people are infected each day with HIV, which destroys the immune system.

South African President Thabo Mbeki
Thabo Mbeki: Poverty causes Aids
As much as 95% of new HIV infections are in the poorest countries of the world, with out ready access to essential drugs.

The Black Death - or bubonic plague - ravaged Asia and Europe in the 14th Century killing 40 million people.

It was caused by a bacterium carried by rats, with infection spreading through rat flea bites.

Mr Lamptey writes: "HIV/Aids is likely to surpass the Black Death as the worst pandemic ever, as without access to drugs, most of the 40m people living with HIV will die.

An affordable cure is urgently needed as well as "intensified prevention, care, and support programmes", he adds.

And the world is urgently in need of an "effective and safe vaccine" and an affordable cure, Mr Lamptey says.

'Inadequate resources'

Mr Lamptey says programmes to change behaviour and promote condoms and the treatment of sexually transmitted infections are effective, but are seriously hampered by a country's wealth.

He said: "The pandemic continues its relentless spread - about 14,000 people are infected every day."

"Large scale prevention efforts have been successful in only a few countries, mainly because of inadequate resources and lack of international commitment."

There could be some hope in the report, also in the BMJ, by the Medical Research Council of South Africa, whose scientists say an accessible HIV vaccine is seven to 10 years away.

But the report's author Malegapuru William Makgoba says to be successful the research needs the collaborative effect of politics, science and public-private partnerships.

Donald Berwick, president and chief executive officer, of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Boston, USA writes that drug companies could hold the key to fighting Aids.

He argues that modern drugs can improve the lives of people with HIV by years, even decades, but their high costs are often cited as the reason why poor countries cannot develop effective infrastructures for the care of patients.

But Richard Sykes, chairman of GlaxoSmithKline says it is all too easy to put cost as the main barrier for poor countries.

Zackie Achmat, of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, said it was down to a "lack of political will" by the international community to provide HIV/Aids sufferers with drugs.

Mr Achmat, chairman of the campaign believes a global health fund will be a start in providing treatment as well as supporting HIV prevention efforts.

See also:

17 Jan 02 | Health
Development in Aids vaccine hunt
03 Apr 01 | Health
Polio eradication draws closer
19 Dec 01 | Africa
SA to fight Aids drug ruling
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