“The truth about AIDS is of course a general truth about what the world is like today. In other words: what we allow the world to look like.”

Henning Mankell, 2004

It has been almost 30 years since HIV and AIDS was first recognised and diagnosed. HIV and AIDS has since spread at an alarming rate globally and now affects most countries in the world (where the information is available). Although there have been major breakthroughs in terms of treatments, prevention methods and support for people living with HIV and AIDS, these responses are still inadequate in terms of stopping its spread and easing its impact. Millions of people continue to be infected with millions more still dying. This is especially true in sub-Saharan Africa, the main focus for this section.

Internationally renowned expert and activist on HIV and AIDS, Michael Kelly SJ argues that HIV and AIDS is driven by poverty, gender disparities and power structures, stigma and discrimination and exploitative global socio-economic structures and practices. He believes that: ‘the more these thrive, the more HIV and AIDS will flourish. Equally, the more HIV and AIDS prosper, the greater the likelihood that poverty, gender disparities and power structures, stigma and discrimination, and disruptive socio-economic structures and practices will flourish and ensure the continuation of the epidemic’ (2006).

All of these mitigating forces combine to then make HIV and AIDS not only a biological or social issue, but more crucially, a development issue. It is important that we look at HIV and AIDS from a development perspective in terms of the impact it has at the individual level, community level, national and international level. HIV itself is now a major challenge for human beings in terms of what it means to be infected and affected. It is a major challenge for countries with high HIV prevalence rates in terms of the development, or ‘undevelopment’, of those countries. It is also a major challenge for all us of in terms of ‘what we allow the world to look like’ (Henning Mankell), and how we have allowed it to progress to this stage. This creates a challenge now for each individual to ask themselves if they are happy with the current situation? If not, to use Michael Kelly’s frank question, ‘what am I going to do about it?’

AIDS is a justice issue, not primarily a sex issue…Perhaps and even more basic issue than economic and gender relations in the countries most affected by AIDS is the justice of the interlocking local and global economic systems that disrupt traditional societies, displace economic and educational infrastructures, and cut off access to kinds of prevention and treatment of disease whose efficacy in Europe and North America is well established

Lisa Sowle Cahal

HIV and AIDS has claimed more than 27 million lives since it was first diagnosed in 1981. It is estimated that 2 million people die every year from HIV related illnesses and AIDS. 33.3 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV.

Number of people worldwide living with HIV

sub-Saharan Africa22.5 million
Asia4.9 million
North America, Western & Central Europe2.3 million
Central and South America (one third of which are in Brazil)1.4 million
Eastern Europe and Central Asia (200% increase since 2000)1.4 million
North Africa and Middle East460,000

Source: UNAIDS Global Report 2010