Byline: Greg Behrman (Behrman is the author of "The Invisible People: How the U.S. Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, the Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe of Our Time.")
Bangkok this week is host to 15,000 scientists, health-care workers and political activists meeting for the 15th International AIDS Conference. It's a fitting venue. When most people think of AIDS, they think of Africa: two thirds of the world's 38 million HIV/AIDS sufferers live on the continent. What many people don't realize is that Eurasia is on the verge of an explosion in AIDS cases.
Russia, with about 1 million people infected, has one of the world's fastest-growing caseloads. China's infection level is as high as Russia's, maybe higher. India now has more than 5 million people with the virus--and it will likely soon overtake South Africa as the country with the greatest number of cases in the world. At this pace, India, China and Russia will have between 35 million and 48 million people infected with HIV by 2010, predicts the U.S. National Intelligence Council. Eurasia may be headed for an even bigger humanitarian disaster than Africa's.
Have we grown numb to suffering on a large scale? If we have, it's worth considering for a moment that a Eurasia racked by AIDS has consequences beyond the humanitarian ones. If the predictions about China and India come to pass, AIDS may have a devastating effect on two of the region's three biggest economies. According to Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, by 2025 the disease could cut annual economic growth in India by 40 percent and in China by 33 percent, and cause Russia's economy to shrink by 40 percent. That would reverberate throughout the global economy. Social and economic pressures may inject a dose of political instability into the region as well.
Africa provides ample proof that AIDS impacts economics. The disease claims adults in their most productive working years. The price in lost productivity in training replacements and care provision once a worker falls sick is crippling. When tens of millions of working-age adults become sick and die, economic output suffers. Across the continent, AIDS has cut deeply into productivity. In Zambia and South Africa, income in households of AIDS sufferers has declined by 66 to 80 percent. The International Monetary Fund predicts that AIDS may exact an annual toll of as much as 2 percent on economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Bank cautions that South Africa's economy could collapse in a few generations if the AIDS crisis isn't averted. …