HIV/AIDS in Africa
Africa is being decimated by the AIDS epidemic leading many to wonder if this is a continent without a future. The virus has ravaged Africa’s nations and gained a stranglehold on millions of people already in the grip of desperate poverty and civil unrest. But there is evidence that this terrifying tide can be turned if the world wakes up to the urgent need for a mass program of prevention and control. This crisis is simply too huge for Africa to handle alone.
Some of the African countries which were worst hit in the early days of the epidemic - such as Uganda and Senegal – have managed to curb the spread of the virus thanks to timely recognition of the problem and the introduction of large scale prevention programs.
In South Africa, the government is aiming to treat 25% of the country’s HIV population with antiretroviral drugs by 2008. It also now has its own cheaper generic antiretroviral drug. Other countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia are also hoping to produce their own generic drugs. Unfortunately it’s likely to be a long time before these are widely available.
Only 3% of an estimated 4.4 million people who need anti HIV drugs receive them.
The World Bank has earmarked $60 million for a treatment acceleration program in three pilot countries – Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mozambique – where HIV prevalence is very high. Other countries are doing their best to improve access to medication but resources are severely limited.
The Future of AIDS in Africa
Things certainly aren’t going to improve overnight. Botswana and Senegal have made some headway in providing treatment and in Senegal in particular this has been reflected in recent figures showing a relatively low prevalence of HIV infection.
Even though there’s a dire lack of antiretroviral drugs, at least many common opportunistic infections can be treated easily and cheaply. They can also be prevented – at a fraction of the cost antiretroviral medication.
But of course what’s really needed to stop the virus in its tracks is prevention. Around $1.5 billion per year is needed to implement education programs in sub-Saharan Africa providing information on safe sex and mother to child transmission.
A further $1.8 billion would provide palliative care for the terminally ill, treat opportunistic infections and care for AIDS orphans. Several billions more a year are needed to provide antiretroviral therapy. The United Nation’s Global Fund has already committed several billion dollars to AIDS programs in Africa but by June 2003 only nine African countries had received any money from the fund thanks to red tape.
Countries also need infrastructure to implement the necessary prevention measures. It’s a massive challenge and needs commitment from African governments. Uganda and Zambia are managing to turn the tide thanks to a sustained effort – and “sustained” is the key word when it comes to AIDS prevention.
Anything that can be done to control the epidemic has to be long term. Education programs have to move on, follow up is needed. Culturally people have to learn how to approach HIV and shake off any stigma.
In Zambia education programs are leading to more people being less sexually active and with few partners. Condoms in particular are being used.
However the provision of condoms in sub-Saharan Africa is averaging out at four per man - it is estimated that it would cost about $48 million a year to provide all the condoms needed. Although compared to the social and economic cost of AIDS/HIV it is probably quite cheap.
The world’s wealthier nations such as America and the UK have committed to ploughing millions into HIV/AIDS in developing countries over the next few years. It will be a long term battle not only against the virus but the poverty and economic despair that goes with it.