AIDS: The Right to Protection

Box 13

New HIV infections now run at 8,500 every day, and 29.4 million people are estimated to have been infected. The pandemic is a profoundly destabilizing force, destroying families and communities, sowing misery and tragedy on a wide scale and perhaps crippling the development prospects of entire nations. It threatens to create a generation of orphans--children of the whirlwind now sweeping through Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is beginning to have a serious demographic effect in several African countries--in fact it is estimated that in some central African countries death rates would be 25 per cent lower without AIDS. Life expectancy in the worst- affected countries is lower by six years as the result of AIDS. This effect will increase as deaths from AIDS increase.

The demographic effect of AIDS underlines more clearly than any words can convey that population is not about numbers: it is about people. The AIDS pandemic is already slowing population growth in some countries by raising death rates. This devastating trend underscores the need to make the well-being of people, and not numerical targets, the central focus of all responsible population programmes. Only by confronting the AIDS pandemic head-on with all the resources at our disposal can we protect the integrity of families, the stability of communities and our hope for balanced development.

Among the first priorities must be to permit all those at risk to protect themselves against HIV infection. That implies a global effort to establish better information and communication about the disease and its causes, and to provide the means of protection. Abstinence from sexual activity prevents infection--but the sexually active need active protection.

This is especially important for women, who are more vulnerable to infection and often do not have the power to prevent intercourse. Only a strong and concerted effort can empower women to insist on their right to protect themselves. Leaders everywhere should speak up for women's right to protection, and vigorously oppose all who speak or act against it.