HIV/AIDS in Sub-Sahara Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world worst hit by HIV and AIDS. More than 25 million people are infected with the virus and the number is growing each year.
In 2004 the epidemic killed around 2.5 million people and more than 12 million children, many of them infected as well, were orphaned by AIDS.
The situation is truly devastating and in the majority of the region shows no signs of abating.
It’s only recently that the true scale of the AIDS horror in Africa is emerging as many people who have been infected with HIV for many years are now becoming seriously ill.
The epidemic is expected to peak by 2010 which means that the social and economic impact will continue to be felt for many years afterwards.
Southern Africa in particular remains the worst affected region with a quarter of the population infected with the virus – in 1990 it was just five per cent. In Botswana and Swaziland, nearly 40% of the population is HIV positive.
The sharp rise is due to a number of factors – poverty, migratory workers, high levels of rape linked to the very low status of women, rising sexually transmitted disease and civil war. Along with ineffective leadership and the unwillingness of governments to accept the problem when the virus was at its most rampant, all these factors taken together mean that HIV in Southern Africa is way out of control.
Heterosexual transmission is by far the most common way of getting infected with the virus in this region. African women are being infected at a much younger age and in some countries outnumber infected men by two to one.
And the future looks bleak when it’s estimated that two million children under 15 have HIV.
Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, whole generations are being wiped out. Life expectancy is just 47 and the labour force is dwindling – this obviously has an effect on the economy which in turn has a knock-on effect on the region’s ability to cope with the virus
The majority of countries in the region don’t have access to life saving anti HIV drugs. The drugs are far too expensive for a developing region.
Pregnant women have no choice but to pass the virus onto their unborn child – they just don’t have the medication to prevent it.
Some countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda have pledged to set up their own drug manufacturing base to provide generic anti HIV drugs.
But for the majority it is up to western charities and non government organisations to provide the money and care needed for medication and treatment.
In parts of East and Central Africa the virus is declining. In Uganda the prevalence has dropped from 29% in 1993 to 9% in 2002. In Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, the figure has halved. This decline has been put down to the governments of both countries recognizing the problem and its social and economic effects. The promotion of condoms and education about how the virus is transmitted is having a real effect.
In West Africa, HIV prevalence is high among the sex workers of the Cote d’Ivoire ( Ivory Coast), although the figures are beginning to drop thanks to HIV prevention programs. Nigeria has the highest number of people living with HIV in West Africa and once again the infection is more common among women.