Meet Dr. Donnica Video Introduction TV Appearances

Diseases & Conditions Today on DrDonnica.com Clinical Trials Decisionnaires FAQs Top Tips Fast Facts Debunking Myths News Alerts Celebrity Speak Out Guest Experts Women's Health Champions Books Women's Health Resources

Mission Privacy Policy Sponsors Press Room What's New? Contact Us

This website is accredited by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify. We comply with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here.


Hope Award

Send to a Friend

Miss Universe Promotes World AIDS Day

By Mike Falcon, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

Amelia Vega is one of the most beautiful woman in the world. But the former Miss Universe is less concerned with her striking looks than with striking a blow against the ugliness of the international AIDS epidemic.

"World AIDS Day is December 1st and I'm working with the Global Health Council and other HIV/AIDS organizations to raise awareness about the disease and the way it is dramatically affecting women," says Vega. "In Miami's Little Havana, we'll have a mobile clinic that will be providing free HIV testing."

Vega stresses that outreach to the Hispanic community is critically important both here and abroad.

"Hispanic people and especially women are now at higher risk for HIV," Vega states. "My country, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti account for about 80% of all the HIV/AIDS cases in the Caribbean region."

And silence and shame continue to aid and abet the virus' spread.

"The problem is people are afraid to talk about AIDS in my country," Vega says. "We need to talk about it, learn about it and begin to solve our problems through education and changes in behavior that put people at risk. Young people are at risk and they need good information."

While the latest CDC report discloses that the AIDS plague is still on the increase here in the USA -- with the greatest increases occurring in the bisexual male and Hispanic populations --the disease also continues to increase internationally.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that 38.6 million adults and 3.2 million children were living with HIV at the end of last year. According to UNAIDS' "AIDS Epidemic Update 2003" report, five million became infected with HIV in 2003, compared with about 4.8 million in 2002., and 3.1 million died from HIV/AIDS.

But this alarming growth is not limited to underdeveloped countries. Major players in the global economy and former superpowers are encountering tragic increases in HIV and AIDS.

At-risk Atlas

"There are three areas where we are particularly concerned," says Nils Daulaire, an expert in international public health and president and CEO of the Global Health Council.

  • India and China - "They have enormous populations, especially of young people that are becoming more sexually active," says Daulaire, who is also a physician. "As two of the world's most vibrant economies this has huge consequences, not just for public health, but also economically." According to UNAIDS, some 6 million people in South and Southeast Asia are living with HIV/AIDS, including as estimated 750,000 infected in 2002.

  • Russia and other former Soviet Union members - "These are facing the most rapid increase in HIV infection rates that the world has ever seen," Daulaire notes. "We are potentially facing a humanitarian catastrophe in those countries." According to AVERT.org, an international AIDS action group headquartered in England and South Africa, 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union countries is a "conservative estimate." That includes 250,000 infected last year.

  • Latin America and the Caribbean -- Echoes of the disastrous delay in acknowledging the South African AIDS epidemic reverberate harshly here. "Many of these governments are still denying they are having a problem," says Daulaire, who points out that "The statistics just don't support that denial." Nearly 2 million live with HIV/AIDS in the regions, according to AVERT.org, and 210,000 were infected just last year.

Vega is amazed that AIDS is still often defined as a "gay" disease. Even though the CDC report shows flat growth rates for heterosexual HIV infections domestically, the worldwide trend in new infections is now increasingly heterosexual.

"I still hear people say that they are not worried about AIDS because they are not gay," Vega says. "Hello?!"

And it's not just the adults who may be at risk.

"If you don't get tested and you get pregnant, then your baby is at risk too," Vega notes.

So, who now gets stuck with the immediate role of eternal vigilance and proactive prevention? Those who are often least likely and able to assert themselves: unsuspecting, monogamous married women.

But Vega encourages women to be proactive.

"Machismo and men not wanting to wear a condom is a problem," she says. "But this problem needs to be dealt with by women. We have to protect ourselves if we feel our partner is not faithful or we feel unsure about the relationship."

This issue particularly affects young women. In the Caribbean nations of Trinidad and Tobago, HIV rates are five times higher in girls than boys aged 15-19, according AVERT.org. At a center in Jamaica for pregnant women, teenage girls have almost twice the HIV+ prevalence of older women.

The slogan seen on the T-shirts of many AIDS activists in the USA now rings even more true for women in developing countries: "Silence = Death."

The good fight

But where do you begin AIDS education in cultures even less willing than our own to discuss the epidemic? Realistically, outreach begins with money. And financial support is where for the first time in the global fight against HIV/AIDS there are encouraging signs that the tides is turning.

"The Administration's announcement that the US was committing to a five year, 15 billion dollar plan for treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS around the world really shook the fundamental assumptions of the global community," Daulaire states. "It meant that there would finally be the kind of resources available to finally make a difference."

Dramatic price drops for anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS has decreased the cost from tens of thousands of dollars per year to around two hundred dollars annually.

"We are now seeing the hope that treatment can be within reach of millions of people within the next few years," Daulaire says. "And we've seen a growth in the world's body of knowledge about what to do about AIDS. The most dramatic part of this turning tide has been the increase in effective treatments that transform AIDS from a death sentence to a hope for a productive life."

Daulaire also notes that these successful treatments for HIV create a ripple effect in people's willingness to seek testing and treatment so patients are being diagnosed and treated earlier and living longer as a result.

"That's what is notable about World AIDS Day 2003 -- we are seeing a switch from despair to hope in the global AIDS pandemic," Daulaire says.

And Vega's hope is that she can continue to help people learn about HIV/AIDS.

"Winning Miss Universe was important to me because it provided me a way to help raise awareness about this deadly issue," Vega says. "I am happy I can make a contribution now because the virus is killing people. We have to educate people because we can save lives."

And that makes Vega's universe just a little more beautiful.

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 12/4/2003  -  Mike Falcon & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 12/4/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

All the content contained herein is copyrighted pursuant to federal law. Duplication or use without
the express written permission of DrDonnica.com subjects the violator to both civil & criminal penalties.
Copyright © 2006 DrDonnica.com. All rights reserved.

Home | Today on DrDonnica.com | Meet Dr. Donnica | TV Appearances | Clinical Trials
Diseases & Conditions | Decisionnaires | Celebrity Speak Out | Guest Experts | Women's Health Champions
FAQs | Women’s Health Resources | Archive | Books & Tapes | Site Certification | Advanced Search
Mission | What’s New? | Press Room | Privacy Policy | Sponsors | Partners | Contact Us