The pandemic caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a major event in human history. This calamity of the 20th century can be grouped together with the two world wars according to the number of casualties and harm to society. Like a war, AIDS suddenly assailed humanity and continues to advance, striking new countries and continents. But unlike military acts, HIV spread unnoticeably, and people took note of it only when it mortally struck millions of people.
The disease and its consequences are catastrophic for humanity. By 1995 all but ten countries on earth have declared cases of HIV infection. Consequently, prevention of the pandemic’s results has become a shared problem for the global community.
Other infections in history have had consequences more severe than the HIV infection. However, people were able to take measures against them or at least suppress them using quarantine measures, vaccines and antibiotics.[i]
In the past the flu always took its yearly toll, malaria held a firm grip in tropical areas, and cholera occasionally struck out, but nevertheless people remained confident that improvement of medicine will overcome these afflictions in the near future. The general opinion was that improvement of living standards and progress of civilization had eliminated many factors that caused pandemics.
However, the HIV infection is different than previous health concerns. Humanity feels completely helpless in the face of this unfamiliar and cunning enemy. This has caused another epidemic that has spread over the globe: fear of AIDS.
The world was shocked by the fact that the USA was one of the first and most vulnerable countries to be affected by AIDS. The disease has brought many values of modern Western civilization into question, especially sexual freedom and freedom of mobility. AIDS has posed a challenge to the entire modern way of life.
Other “murderers” of the 21st century are the Lassa fever, the Rift Valley Fever, the Marburg fever, the Bolivian hemorrhagic fever and the well-known Ebola virus. Their danger is often exaggerated, but we also shouldn’t underestimate them. With the development of bacteriological weaponry, these diseases can be genetically modified and transformed into an absolute instrument of death. Modern medicine will be helpless if such “modified” viruses are quickly dispersed in densely populated areas. This can put humanity back into the Stone Age, or even eradicate it from the face of the Earth.
Of the 58 million deaths forecasted by experts of the World Health Organization, 35 million deaths will result from chronic diseases.[ii] This is twice the number of deaths due to all infectious diseases put together, including HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. The top four are cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory illnesses and diabetes. 80% of deaths due to chronic illnesses take place in underdeveloped countries, where most of the world’s population lives. The Russian Federation is one of them. According to experts’ estimates, between 2005 and 2015 the national budget will be $300 billion short due to a premature death rate cause by heart attacks, strokes, and diabetic complications. China’s economy will suffer an even greater damage, about $558 billion.
The World Health Organization (WHO) report underlines that the current level of medical knowledge is enough to overcome this problem. However, insufficient efforts are being made on the global scale. This is especially true of the problem of smoking (every year about 4.9 million people die from diseases related to tobacco use) and the obesity epidemic (1 billion people are obese).[iii] In Russia one out of three babies is born with an illness. The death rate of children in Russia is much higher than in the West, and the number of disabled people is growing. Over the last 40 years humanity has received 72 new infections, and two or three new infections emerge every year[iv]. David Heyman, Director of the WHO Department of Infectious Diseases stated at the World Health Assembly that it is practically impossible to prevent the appearance of new deadly viruses, and that medics’ worst fear is that a new strain of the flu virus will emerge.[v]
New viruses are continually being discovered. Diagnostics is improving, which facilitates discovery of new viruses and definitive ascertainment of “virus—illness” connections where they were previously questioned. This is part of the reason for the visible increase of viral infections. However, there is also another factor for this increase: drastic deterioration of the population’s immune system.