Millions of poor die each year of preventable disease

Thursday, August 22, 2002

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- AIDS killed 3 million people last year. The year before, tuberculosis killed 1.7 million and malaria more than a million others. Millions more died from diarrhea and other easily preventable diseases.

A decade ago, world leaders at the Earth Summit in Rio promised to tackle diseases of the poor. But with so many of the world's most vulnerable still dying in droves, many health activists are furious that more has not been done to save them.

"We are losing 6 million people every year to AIDS, TB and malaria alone, 14 million to communicable disease. This is not progress," said Rachel Cohen, spokeswoman with Medecins Sans Frontieres, the medical aid group known in English as Doctors Without Borders.

"You really have to think twice about whether this health revolution that is being talked about in the West is any way benefiting the people that need it the most," she said.

Seeking solutions

Leaders meeting at the World Summit for Sustainable Development starting Monday in Johannesburg will again discuss ways to fight preventable diseases in the developing world.

In recent years, there have been some stunning successes.

In 1988, when the world launched its drive to eradicate polio, 350,000 new cases of the deadly disease were reported. Last year, following massive immunization campaigns, the World Health Organization said just 480 new cases were reported.

It also said a campaign against leprosy has cut new cases by 85 percent over the past 15 years and eliminated it from 98 countries.

But other diseases have gotten far worse.

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of people infected with tuberculosis in Africa and Eastern Europe, regions highly vulnerable to the disease, jumped from 200 million to 450 million.

HIV infections jumped from 8 to 10 million people to 40 million.

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