One of the worst epidemics in the modern times to take on truly global proportions has been AIDS. AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is caused by infection with HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus. At the end of 2009 there were around 30.8 million adults and 2.5 million children were living with HIV, According to estimates from the UNAIDS Global Report 2010. The region to bear the biggest brunt of the epidemic is Sub-Saharan Africa which even though containing only 10% of the world's population, is home to 68% of all people living with HIV. Here is a list of ten countries which have been worst affected by AIDS, in terms of the percentage of the population living with AIDS.
The country to rank at the top of this unfortunate list is Swaziland, a small landlocked country in southern Africa. Here 26% of the adult population is affected by AIDS which means that at least one in four people is suffering from the disease. Swaziland has been wracked by political and civil unrest which has severely hampered its economy and infrastructure. As a result health services are extremely poorly equipped which is one of the main reasons that Swaziland is now the country with the highest AIDS prevalence rate in the world. The impact of Swaziland's epidemic has been so severe that life expectancy is just 49 years - one of the lowest in the world. Indeed demographers fear that the long-term survival of Swaziland as a country will be seriously threatened if the spread of HIV is not halted.
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Till recently Botswana topped the AIDS prevalence rate but now it ranks second with 23.9% as far as the percentage of people living with AIDS is concerned. Despite four decades of uninterrupted civilian leadership, progressive social policies and significant capital investment resulting in one of the most dynamic economies in Africa, Botswana was unable to escape the scourge of AIDS sweeping Africa. However in recent years the country has been able to rein in the spread of the disease, largely thanks to its AIDS control program which is the most progressive and comprehensive programs in the continent.
Lesotho follows closely with the third largest rate of AIDS prevalence in the country which affects around 23.3% of its population or 270000 people. The AIDS epidemic in Lesotho has had a devastating impact on the country. Crippling poverty combined with AIDS has caused average life expectancy to drop to 51 years. The impact on individuals, families and the whole nation is being felt as adults become too sick to work and children orphaned by AIDS are left to run households.
- South Africa
The country with the fourth highest percentage of population affected by AIDS is South Africa. Here even though 18 % of the population has been affected by the epidemic, the number of people living with the disease is more than 5.7 million which makes South Africa the country with the largest number of people affected by AIDS. Within the country however there are marked differences in epidemic patterns; for instance some age groups are found to be particularly affected. Almost one in three women aged 25-29, and over a quarter of men aged 30-34, are living with HIV. Then again HIV prevalence among those aged two and older also varies by province with the Western Cape (3.8%) and Northern Cape (5.9%) being least affected, and Mpumulanga (15.4%) and kwazulu-Natal (15.8%) bearing the brunt of the epidemic within the country.
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Next in the list is Zimbabwe with around 15.3% percent of the adult population affected by AIDS. In terms of numbers, around 1.3 million people are living with the disease in the country. In a country with such a tense political and social climate, it has been difficult to respond to the crisis. Trouble for the people of Zimbabwe has only intensified with unprecedented rise in inflation which in January 2008 reached an unbelievable 100,000%, a severe cholera epidemic, high rates of unemployment, political violence - all of which has brought about a near-total collapse of the health system and left the people suffering from AIDS and their families completely helpless.
Namibia is another country which has roughly the same prevalence rate of AIDS-affected people as Zimbabwe – at 15.3% of the total population. This means that more than one out of every ten people is living with HIV infection and the total number of people affected by it ranges from 180000 to 200000.
Zambia follows closely with around 15.2% of its population affected by AIDS. This country in southern Africa has been one of the worst hit by the epidemic with more than one in every seven adults in the country living with HIV infection and prevalence rate as high as 25 percent in some urban areas. In fact such has been the consequences that life expectancy at birth has fallen to just 39 years in the country. Despite having gained independence four decades ago, Zambia has not been able to translate political peace into economic advantage and prosperity. Today it remains one of the poorest countries of the world – a fact which continues to hamper its AIDS-fighting capabilities.
This country in the southeastern part of Africa has around 1.5 million people living with AIDS. The numbers imply that at least 12.5% of the population is affected by the epidemic. Large-scale emigration, economic dependence on South Africa, a severe drought and a prolonged civil war have only compounded problems and hindered the country's ability to fight AIDS. Because of this, Mozambique along with few other Sub-Saharan countries became the primary target of PEPFAR aid in 2004. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, also known as PEPFAR, is America's initiative to combat the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and is now part of the Global Health Initiative.
Yet another country to be severely affected by AIDS is Tanzania. In the country 6.2 % of the population has been affected by the epidemic which means that around 1.4 million people are living with AIDS. Although this number has recently fallen slightly, the epidemic’s severity differs widely from region to region, with some regions like Arusha reporting an HIV prevalence of less than 2 percent and others like Iringa witnessing as high as 16 percent. Heterosexual sex accounts for the majority of infections (80 percent) on Tanzania mainland. On the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar the HIV prevalence is far lower among the general population (0.6 percent) and the epidemic is more concentrated, mainly affecting female sex workers, men who have sex with men and injecting drug users.
Cameroon is perhaps the tenth worst AIDS affected country in the world; here 5.10 % of the total population is in the grip of the epidemic which means that around 540000 people are living with AIDS. In fact one of the subtypes of the HIV-1 virus was discovered here in 1998. Known as HIVE-1 group N, this strain is however extremely rare. In 2009 a new strain closely relating to gorilla simian immunodeficiency virus was discovered in a Cameroonian woman and was designated HIV-1 group P.