Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the retrovirus that weakens the immune system, particularly by causing the death of many CD4+T cells, which coordinate the human immune system's response to intruders. This weakening of the immune system leaves the body open to attack from opportunistic infections, eventually leading to the development of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
HIV/AIDS affects every country in the world and in many infection rates are increasing rapidly. Today, an estimated 42 million people live with HIV/AIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world worst affected. Nearly three-quarters of persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) are in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 3.1 million people who died of HIV/AIDS in 2002, 2.4 million were in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease has already orphaned 12 million children in Africa and that number could grow to a staggering 40 million by 2010.
It is argued that the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS is linked with globalization, which makes it easier for people to travel and may promote some risk behaviours. HIV/AIDS is also undermining the benefits of globalization for many countries. Between 1960 and 1990, life expectancy in Africa increased by a very substantial nine years. The impact was to add between 1.7% and 2.7% a year to the growth rate of per capita gross domestic product (GDP). The HIV/AIDS epidemic, however, is reversing these gains. According to a World Bank report, HIV/AIDS may subtract an additional 1% a year from GDP economic growth in some sub-Saharan African countries, owing to the continuing loss of skilled and unskilled workers in the prime of life. In South Africa HIV/AIDS may depress GDP by as much as 17% over the next decade.
HIV/AIDS also creates much higher costs of health care for governments and may undermine health insurance schemes, as premiums become unaffordably high in countries with high prevalence rates.