Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states the right of all people to medical care adequate for their health and well-being. Without this right, people’s access to their other rights, including the right to life, is limited. In many nations, including the United States, people’s access to medical care is based on their personal financial resources. Examining AIDS in a global context sharply highlights this social injustice.
AIDS, first identified in 1981, has become a worldwide epidemic, growing far beyond initially affected populations. UNAIDS (2012a) states that almost 34 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS, almost 70% of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa; South/Southeast Asia is the next most affected region. In terms of percentage of population, 5% of those in sub-Saharan Africa are affected, followed by the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. And yet, even as we look at these numbers, the vast progress that has been made must be acknowledged. The number of AIDS-related deaths has been declining globally due both to the reduced number of new infections and increased access to antiretroviral drugs (UNAIDS, 2012a). The rate of new infections was 20% lower in 2011 than it was in 2001, including a 25% decrease in sub-Saharan Africa. More people are able to access life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, causing a 25% decrease in mortality from 2005 to 2011 (32% in sub-Saharan Africa) (UNAIDS, 2012a).
However, these numbers mean that the battle can be won, not that it is over. Infection rates in regions such as North Africa/Southwest Asia are rising. Mortality rates are rising in this region as well as Eastern Europe/
Central Asia (UNAIDS, 2012a). Reflecting the shift from initially affected populations, UNAIDS has stated that women and girls “bear the brunt” of AIDS (UNAIDS, 2005a). The proportion of women has risen in every region worldwide and is approximately 50% of those infected globally; in sub-Saharan Africa, it is almost 60% (UNAIDS, 2012a, 2012b). As will be discussed, women are at high risk of this disease for both biological and social reasons. Overall, young people aged 15 to 24 make up 39% of all new infections worldwide (UNICEF, 2012a), while young women are the population determined to be at highest risk. Globally, young women have infection rates twice those of men their age; in sub-Saharan Africa it is almost 2.5 times higher (UNAIDS, 2012b).
AIDS exists in a broad socioeconomic situation that must be considered when developing responses to the disease. UNAIDS (2005b) stated that if AIDS is viewed in isolation as only a medical illness, the epidemic will only worsen. They state that what must be done to eradicate the epidemic is to reduce poverty and increase development and to address the roles of men and women in society, in addition to other macro-level interventions. These issues, seemingly unrelated to a medical disease, are vital to stopping the epidemic.