The future of AIDS

June 19, 1991

As the Seventh International AIDS Conference meets this week in Florence, Italy, Americans might be tempted to take comfort in projections suggesting that the number of AIDS cases will peak in Western countries before the mid-1990s and fall to around 10 percent of the world's total by the end of the decade. Currently, Western countries account for about 20 percent of the world's AIDS cases.

But in an interdependent world, it is impossible to take a narrow view of epidemics -- which is why it is foolish to consider AIDS primarily an affliction of any particular community, whether gays or intravenous drug users or any other group of people. The grim truth is that AIDS could easily ravage other populations, as could some as-yet-unknown virus.

In some developing countries, particularly in Africa, AIDS is becoming the leading cause of death among adults who should be in the prime of their lives. Translated from dry statistics into real life, that means that AIDS is robbing countries of their most productive citizens -- the people on whom the economy depends, and those who are responsible for caring for older generations and for rearing and educating the young. For these countries, AIDS is a disaster that will take decades to overcome -- and one whose effects will be felt far beyond national boundaries.

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