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officials: Basic health care, not AIDS, should be top

officials: Basic health care, not AIDS, should be top

The top priority in Africa should be getting people basic health care and not just dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, an African Union commissioner said.

Bience Gawanas, the AU's commissioner for social affairs, joined members of African-based HIV/AIDS organizations, U.N. delegates, and staff on Friday for an informal briefing on HIV/AIDS. The panel echoed a need for general health services that some expressed would improve treatment and prevention of the disease.

''We should go back to the basics: that primary health care is what Africa needs,'' Gawanas said. ''You cannot focus on one issue at the exclusion of others.''

Last year 2.8 million people in sub-Saharan Africa became infected with HIV, and 2.1 million people died. The region is home to over 60% of all people living with HIV. But Africa also struggles with high rates of tuberculosis and malaria infection. U.N.-led efforts to solve the problems one by one lose effectiveness as they encounter complex maladies among people in Africa, Gawanas said.

''The U.N. system approach says, 'Look at AIDS and TB, then look at something else,' '' she said. ''The body cannot get help from one agency or another if it has more than one disease,'' Gawanas said.

Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, chairman of Nigeria's National Action Committee on AIDS, said Africa has suffered a ''decay'' in its infrastructure. Building health care systems is among its top challenges, he said. A focus on treatment programs is drawing attention away from prevention strategies, and general health care services could correct the balance, Osotimehin said.

''Access is not just about drugs, it's about services,'' he said. But he added that manufacturing medication used to treat HIV/AIDS is sparse in Africa, and that the continent needs to increase its own production because ''HIV is going to be with us for a very long time.''

Gawanas said ''HIV has a woman's face,'' referring to the prevalence of the disease among women compared to men, and that dealing with social issues is also among top priorities in the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS. (AP)

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