The Cable

This World AIDS Day, Consider Where in the World AIDS Is

On World AIDS Day and every other day, AIDS is a worldwide phenomenon.


“Whatever your brand of politics — left, right, center or none at all — if you’re an American, you’re an AIDS activist.”

So said U2’s Bono in a statement released Thursday by the ONE Campaign, which he co-founded. He continued to say that the United States had led the international way in the fight against AIDS, and the world owes Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama for their efforts to fight it. The statement is followed by information on AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, and on ONE, “a policy and advocacy organization of more than 7.5 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.” As of last year, approximately 25.6 million people in Africa were living with AIDS.  

To be very clear: That a rock star has led an organization to bring attention to fight AIDS in Africa is a good thing. Africa is where the vast majority of those living with HIV and AIDS live. But to be clearer still: AIDS does not only exist in Africa, and, today, on this World AIDS Day, we would do well to remember that.

For example, when we speak of AIDS, we do not often speak of Ukraine. But, according to UNICEF, Ukraine has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in Europe, and one of the “fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world.” We do not usually speak of Russia, where the rate of infection is rising between 10 and 15 percent annually.

When we speak of AIDS, we mostly do not speak of Asia and the Pacific region, but, as of last year, 4.8 million people there were living with AIDS, and only 33 percent had access to treatment. We usually do not speak of India, where 2.1 million people are living with HIV.

When we speak of AIDS, we generally do not speak of Central Asia, though HIV prevalence among prisoners in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is reported at 8 percent.

And when we speak of AIDS, we sometimes even do not speak of America, where, according to Bono, every citizen is an activist against AIDS — and where AIDS disproportionately affects people of color, a situation that is directly impacted and perpetuated by the high incarceration rate of black men.

Photo credit: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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