Aids: Africa's forgotten genocide

Category: Life & Society Topics: Africa, Health, Hiv & Aids Views: 898
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"In Africa, AIDS is like a water pot with many holes. Our communities are draining out..." These words, uttered by a Senegalese physician at the 11th international AIDS conference last week in Zambia last, capture the ever-deteriorating health condition among Africans.

What makes such a statement even more powerful is the fact that it's true. Two-thirds of the world's 31 million HIV-infected people live in Africa. And 1998 was reported to be the year in which AIDS seized the lives of two million Africans.

The endless and horrifying statistics poured out of the 4-day Zambia conference to open the world's eyes on the intensity of the situation. Many of the cries for help are expected however, to vanish in the same way millions of Africa's young population are expected to perish in the coming years. In the last 15 years, 11 million Africans have died as a result of the fatal disease.

It might be astonishing to learn that despite Africa's continuous armed conflicts, AIDS has claimed the lives of many more innocents than the brutal wars have. According to UNICEF, the ratio of people victimized by AIDS vs. war is 10-1. The quickly growing disease therefore has proven to be Africa's worst enemy.

Even though most nations have been paying a hefty price for the incurable disease, including rich and health progressive countries, Africa is enduring more than its share of the misery. The problem thus extends beyond a deadly and incurable disease. Tragically the world's apathy and local governmental corruption have been cited as two major factors to blame for the uncontrollable affects of AIDS.

Despite the extreme importance of such an issue, reports from the 11th international AIDS conference spoke of very little concern from African governments in taking part of the conference's activities. From the 16 heads of state invited to the conference, no one showed up including the host country's president himself.

Such indifference forces many questions. While 25% of some African countries' entire populations are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, why do most African leaders turn a blind eye to the illness sweeping through their people like a blaze in a dried forest? Isn't it more humane, fair and rational if African governments spend the larger share of their budgets on health rather than piling up even more weapons?

While these questions haplessly look for answers, 90% of the world's AIDS orphans, residing in Africa, are neglected and many are left to die from malnutrition. In Zambia alone 90,000 homeless children are said to be AIDS orphans.

Most African patients can neither afford the anti-viral drugs nor are they informed how to prevent the spread of the disease to others. Half of South Africa's HIV infected women are said to have been infected by their own husbands.

While people are left to fight for themselves in places turned by the disease into what UNICEF describes as "killing fields," many destructive methods and traditional prescriptions make matters even worse. One belief amongst many infected, yet sexually active African men is that practicing sex with young virgins can cure AIDS. As a result the number of infected young African girls is steadily rising.

Recent studies revealed at the AIDS conference have compared the calculated spending to fight the disease in Africa with the developed world. The United States spends $880 million to care for an estimated 40,000 new cases every year. In comparison, the entire continent of Africa spends approximately $150 million to fight an estimated 4 million new case of AIDS every year. What is even more bewildering is the fact that only one-tenth of the money being spent on Africa's AIDS victims comes from governmental sources.

Yet, it is not by mere optimism that Africa's worst nightmare can be repressed. While some African countries' infrastructures have been wrecked by civil wars -- like Angola and Sierra Leone -- the U.N Development program estimates that industrial production in the worst affected cities has declined by 20% as many workers have died from AIDS.

It is true that recognizing the problem is a healthy step toward curing it. However, recognizing the problem itself is inefficient if constant and sincere efforts are not employed to curb its lethal effects. The international community is not only morally obliged to care for Africa's greatest misfortune because the Africans are part of the larger human race, but also because such a disease, if unleashed, neither technology, nor race nor political boarders could control the devastation it would bring.

African leaders who failed to attend the conference manifest another fatal problem that Africa must face. For AIDS to be fought, a wise, credible and devout leadership is essential. Without such leadership, the war against AIDS will be lost before it even begins.


  Category: Life & Society
  Topics: Africa, Health, Hiv & Aids
Views: 898

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