World Aids Cases


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a terrible disease that is devastating many of the world’s countries, particularly those of Africa. While the industrialized world rightfully grieves over tens or even hundreds of thousands of deaths from this plague in their own countries, AIDS has slaughtered millions of sub-Saharan Africans. In 2003, Africa accounted for more than sixty-six percent of the 38 million diagnosed cases in the world. Also in that year, Southeast Asia had more than twice as many cases as the entire industrialized world.

There is hope, however, in that medical treatments have been recently discovered that can halt the progression of the disease. For many, AIDS is no longer an automatic death sentence but the drug treatments are expensive. It will take great international cooperation and funds to make them widely available at reasonable cost.

Despite the ravages of the disease and the death toll it has caused, Africa and Asia are nevertheless projected to grow very rapidly in total population over the next fifty years. Africa, in particular, faces the prospect of becoming a continent of children without adult supervision. Many adults have died before they could receive proper treatment, leaving increasing masses of Africans in disease-ravaged states with poor social infrastructures. This demographic disaster will cause serious problems for Africa in the first half of the century, in all likelihood keeping this unfortunate continent mired in instability and economic stagnation for at least another generation.

Main Insights

  • According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, there were an estimated 38 million people living with AIDS at the end of 2001. That is a number roughly equivalent to 0.6% of the world’s population, or nearly one in every 166 people.
  • The country with the largest number of AIDS cases is not located in the developed world or even Asia, but in Africa. South Africa has over 5 million diagnosed cases of AIDS or 14% of the entire world’s total. Given its population of approximately 45 million residents, this translates into a nationwide infection rate of 12%.
  • India had the second highest number of diagnosed AIDS cases in 2001 with 5.1 million, or 13% of the world total. Nigeria ranked third with 3.6 million cases, Zimbabwe was fourth with 1.8 million, and Tanzania was fifth with 1.6 million cases. Ranking tenth in total number of cases worldwide was the United States, with 950,000 people, or 2.5% of the world’s cases.

Other Observations

  • In 2003, Botswana had the highest number of AIDS cases as a percent of total population–22%. Swaziland was second highest at 18.9%, Lesotho was third at 17.2%, Zimbabwe was fourth at 14.3%, and South Africa was fifth at 12.4%. The United States’ infection rate was 0.3% in the same year.
  • Africa had 25.2 million AIDS cases in 2003, or 65% of the world total. Asia had 7.8 million cases (21%); North America, 1.7 million (5%); Europe, 1.9 million (5%); South America, 1.4 million (4%) reported cases.
  • The countries with the five largest numbers of cases had 45% of all AIDS cases in 2003. The ten largest had 23.5 million cases, or 62% of the world total. AIDS is not a disease particularly concentrated in just a few unfortunate countries.
  • In Europe, Russia had by far the largest total number of assessed cases at 860,000, while the Ukraine was second with 360,000. In Asia, India had the largest number of cases (5.1 million cases), followed by China (840,000 cases), Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), and Vietnam.
  • Overall, depending on the regimen and the country in which the drugs are purchased, treatment costs for AIDS vary widely, from $50 to $10,000 per year. Assuming an average cost of $500 per case, it would cost about $19 billion annually to treat all AIDS cases diagnosed in 2003. On May 16, 2003, the United States Senate unanimously passed legislation authorizing $15 billion to fight HIV and AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean over the following five years. Later in that year, the world tentatively agreed to allow for the sale of AIDS medicines at reduced prices in the developing world. These are hopeful signs of progress.

Sources and Methodology

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a disease that effectively destroys the infected individual’s immune system and is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. Without an effective immune system, a person is unable to fight other illnesses, which then may become life-threatening. People don’t die from AIDS per se, but rather from other diseases that cannot be stopped once AIDS has ravaged a victim’s immune system. There is no known cure, but drug protocols have been developed to slow or even halt the effects of HIV. While the death rate from AIDS has slowed significantly since the widespread use of these protocols in the industrialized world, the spread of HIV continues to be a serious and worldwide health problem, particularly in the developing world.

Obtaining precise data on the number of AIDS cases worldwide is extremely difficult and often politically charged. Given the perceived stigma of the disease in certain countries, some governments are reluctant to publish or even determine accurate estimates on the number of cases in their population. This appears to be a particular problem in many Middle Eastern countries, as well as China and India. More sound estimates are available for the industrialized countries and even Africa.

The data used here are based primarily on the 2003 Epidemiology Report from the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS/HIV (available at The report attempts to capture the total number of diagnosed cases worldwide as disclosed by national and international sources. It does not purport to be completely accurate, but it probably provided the most comprehensive picture available at that time.