** Topic: HEALTH-AFRICA: HIV/AIDS Remains The Number One Killer **
** Written 8:35 PM Jul 23, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
*** 23-Jul-99 ***
Title: HEALTH-AFRICA: HIV/AIDS Remains The Number One Killer
By Judith Achieng'
NAIROBI, Jul 23 (IPS) - The UN says HIV/AIDS is the number one killer in
In its annual report, ''Progress Of Nations 1999'', the UN Children's
(Unicef), says the AIDS pandemic has surpassed armed conflict as the
number one killer in the region.
''HIV/AIDS has reached catastrophic proportions in Africa. The many
made in the last 25 years have dramatically reduced,'' Unicef deputy
executive director Stephen Lewis told journalists in the Kenyan capital
Nairobi this week.
Of the 144 million people who have so far succumbed to AIDS globally,
than 11 million have been Africans. Last year alone, two million people
Africa died from the virus, he says.
A staggering 48 percent of world's HIV/AIDS cases are in eastern and
southern Africa, making it the hardest hit region in the world.
Last year alone, Unicef says, some 1.4 million men, women and children
the region died of AIDS, twice the number of people killed in the 1994
The epidemic has also impacted heavily on hospitals, where up to 70
percent of most African hospital beds are occupied by patients with
AIDS-related illnesses. ''Throughout the continent, there is almost no
more treatment of any other medical condition - there is only room for
death,'' says Lewis.
The economic implications in terms of the cost on human resources and
skilled labour are even more daunting. ''Never has Africa faced such a
plague,'' notes Lewis. ''We are confronting a deadly virus that has
apart the social fabric of societies across Africa, creating a
of orphans who face an uncertain and frightening future.''
Lewis says the deaths of adults, resulting from AIDS, has violated all
tenets of the Convention on the Rights of Child, which gives a child a
right to food, shelter, medical attention and education.
Africa accounts for up to six million orphans, a figure representing up
70 percent of the global figure. ''The extended family which lies at the
heart of the African cultural infrastructure is being stripped off its
meaning day after day,'' says Lewis.
The report also highlights gender disparities such as girls' biological,
physical and social vulnerability which place the girl child at risk of
infection and the impact of gender discrimination.
A recent study conducted in Kenya's Western Province found at least 25
percent of girls of ages between 15 and 19 HIV positive, compared with
four percent of boys of the same age group, while in Botswana, more than
30 percent of adolescent pregnant women are infected.
Sub-Saharan African adolescence girls are six times more likely to be
infected than boys of the same age, according to the report.
In Rwanda, which is still recovering from the 1994 genocide, up to 35
percent of women seeking antenatal care are HIV positive.
The report reveals that while nine out of 10 people in Africa with HIV
virus do not know they are infected, those who do rarely tell their
relatives and spouses.
The media has also done no better. Many African newspapers do not
AIDS in their obituary columns. ''Behind the shield of silence, the
and shame associated with AIDS only enable the epidemic to grow,'' the
''When historians look at Africa, they see a fatal war of denial that
lasted for too long, and continues to go on,'' says Lewis. ''Everywhere
went, workers raised the issue of insensitivity and denial of men.''
''The silence and stigma surrounding this terrible illness are fueling
spread and stroking a lethal intolerance we must resist with all our
might,'' says Janat Mukwaya, Uganda's minister for Gender, Social
Development and Labour.
To reduce the spread of the scourge, Lewis says the disease must be an
obsession for every leader like in the case of Uganda and Senegal, the
success stories which launched large scale education and prevention
Uganda, the first country to be hit hard by the epidemic, has
used massive public awareness education and campaigns in the fight
Since the government of president Yoweri Museveni embarked on a major
public awareness campaign, Uganda has seen infection rates dropping
dramatically from 38 percent in 1991 to as low as 7.3 percent in many
''We took AIDS not as a health issue but as a problem which all Ugandans
must be involved in solving regardless of their work,'' says Mukwaya.
In Senegal, infection rates have stabilised and are expected to start
going down. Among women and men of age 25, condom use is reported to
risen dramatically among the so called ''non- regular partners'' from a
meager five percent in 1990 to 60 percent by 1997.
But the two countries, like the rest of the continent, are still faced
with the uncertain challenge of looking after their orphans.
Uganda has some 1.8 million AIDS orphans, the highest in any country in
the world. This calls for resources which for Africa, are not
Lewis accuses the international community of paying less attention to
Africa's most urgent problems, while it was able to act on the Kosovo
He says it is ''indefensible, inexcusable, repugnant, offensive and
for the West spend some 40 billion US Dollars on participating in a war
the Balkans and prepare for the region's economic restoration, while
than one percent of that figure goes to saving innocent lives Africa.
''Everybody talks about a Marshall plan for the Balkans. What about a
Marshall plan for Africa?,'' he asks. (END/IPS/ja/mn/99)
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