| ||The acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is caused by infection with the human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV). Although AIDS was recognised in 1981, the global epidemic was well established by this time. HIV had spread silently and undetected, probably since the mid 1970s.
Such was the rapidity of spread that AIDS is now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. The results of this have been devastating. The high mortality amongst young working adults could cripple national economies and has left over a million children orphaned. Worldwide, HIV/AIDS is the fourth biggest killer. The sobering statistic from the World Health Organisation is that, at the end of 2001, an estimated 40 million people globally were living with AIDS (by comparison, the whole population of the UK was just under 60 million).