Scroll To Top

Rage, remorse,
but some hope in Africa on World AIDS Day

Rage, remorse,
but some hope in Africa on World AIDS Day

Rage and remorse marked World AIDS Day in Africa on Thursday as the continent worst hit by the global crisis remembered millions of deaths in a pandemic that even new drug treatments are doing little to slow.

In Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, president Olusegun Obasanjo went for a morning jog with HIV patients while in the tiny kingdom of Lesotho officials launched the world's first door-to-door national HIV antibody testing campaign.

But Swaziland, which has one of the highest adult HIV infection rates in the world at an estimated 40% of the population, scrapped World AIDS Day events entirely, while South Africa's health minister repeated her much criticized prescription of garlic and beetroot as an HIV treatment.

Across Africa, AIDS patients blasted political leaders for failing to come to grips with the disease and the international community for doing too little to help.

"Money that has been earmarked for HIV/AIDS has gone into everything else but AIDS," fumed Meris Kafusi, a 64-year-old HIV patient in Tanzania who only recently began receiving life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs. "Organizations that say they are dealing with AIDS are always in seminars or workshops. They should be buying food for widows and orphans; but instead of that, you find them earning daily allowances of $50 for sitting in a room discussing us. Is this fair?"

Sub-Saharan Africa remains ground zero for worldwide AIDS deaths as well as for new infections--cutting life expectancy in many countries, leaving millions of children orphaned, and reducing agricultural output in hungry regions.

The latest United Nations estimates say 26 million of the 40 million people infected with HIV worldwide live in Africa, and that Africa saw about 3.2 million of the almost 5 million new infections recorded in 2005.

Jack Yong Kim, the director of the AIDS department at the World Health Organization in Lesotho for AIDS Day, said Africa's pain was due in part to lack of proper planning. "Current prevention, treatment and care efforts are too episodic, ad hoc, and lack the intensity, pace and rhythm needed to make an impact," he said in a statement.

Swaziland's King Mswati, who has angered activists by choosing a 13th wife despite the ravages of AIDS in his country, opted to make no impact at all--canceling World AIDS Day events to concentrate on other royal duties

The introduction of antiretrovirals, the only treatment proven to slow the progress of HIV, is beginning to have an impact in Africa although officials say the drugs are only reaching 10% of the African patients who need them.

In South Africa, which with more than 5 million HIV infections has the highest single caseload in the world, antiretrovirals were credited with cutting the number of deaths of HIV-positive babies at one Johannesburg orphanage to just eight in 2005 from 51 in 2002.

But South Africa's rollout of antiretrovirals, which activists say is hobbled by government wariness over the drugs, has not stopped new infections, particularly among young women, and AIDS mortality continues to rise.

Health Minister Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang, dubbed "Dr. No" for her reluctance to support anti-HIV drugs, added fuel to the fire by using an AIDS Day event to push home-grown remedies. "We are therefore encouraging people to eat healthy and balanced diets with a lot of vegetables like carrot, spinach, and beetroot," she told a Durban audience. "Make sure that you eat garlic because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties."

South Africa's confusion over AIDS is having deadly consequences. A projection by the research group Markinor said more South Africans were displaying high-risk sexual behavior and forecast cumulative AIDS deaths could hit 9 million by 2021.

Some countries, notably Uganda and Kenya, appear to be bringing infection rates down, thanks in part to condom campaigns. But others have problems getting the message across, particularly in rural areas where language difficulties and low media access leave people vulnerable.

"It is like shouting or preaching to a deaf person," said Cosmas Adow, an AIDS educator in Isiolo in northern Kenya.

Along with the call for quicker and cheaper access to anti-HIV drugs, many Africans urged a sense of personal responsibility as new infections continue--often with women paying the price.

At a Tanzanian government AIDS Day function, a dreadlocked group of local rap artists had a stark message: "You wanted the hot tea--why do you complain when you get burned?" (Reuters)

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Outtraveler Staff