Aids time-bomb

AFRICAN leaders meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, in April 2001 declared the battle against HIV and Aids, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases as their top priority for the first quarter of the 21st century.



face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>The agreement, which became known as the Abuja Declaration, bound African leaders to commit resources and formulate prudent policies to fight the pandemic.


“We consider Aids as a state of emergency in the continent. To this end, all tariff and economic barriers to access to funding of Aids-related activities should be lifted,” the declaration says. This has not happened.


As the world marked World Aids Day on Wednesday the sub-Saharan region and Zimbabwe in particular were faced with the grim figures of the pandemic. The UNAids Global Report for 2004 estimates that there are 25 million people living with HIV. The region is home to about 10% of the world’s population but has two-thirds of infected people. In Zimbabwe it is estimated that 1,8 million people have been infected. There is also a worrying phenomenon in the region where the epidemic’s feminisation has become very apparent. Of the infected adults in the region, 57% are women while 75% of young people infected are girls.


The statistics are shocking but experts have said the worst of the pandemic is still to come. The death rate is expected to escalate as those infected today succumb to the pandemic after five to 10 years. With it will be a massive growth in Aids orphans, projected to reach 18 million in the region by 2010. The pandemic is daily altering the demographic profile of countries in the region to levels where the productive age-group will be depleted to unsustainable levels.


Weak national security schemes and support programmes are not geared to dealing with the problem. Orphans pose huge challenges to governments which still have to deal with education, prevention, looking after people living with HIV and Aids. The region has also been grappling with other diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, which have been a major drain on health budgets, which have remained inadequate.


The Abuja Declaration, which has been re-affirmed by regional initiatives like the Sadc Declaration on Hiv and Aids and the Nepad Health Strategy, also includes a commitment by the governments to “take all necessary measures to ensure that the needed resources are made available from all sources and that they are efficiently and effectively utilised”.


Under the declaration African governments further pledged to devote 15% of their budgets to improving the health sectors. This is far from being achieved, as lack of political will by many African governments has remained the major handicap in minimising the impact of the pandemic.

In the national budget announced last week the Ministry of Health received $3 trillion, representing 10,5% of the national budget. In a super-short World Aids Day message this week (513 words to be precise) President Mugabe said Zimbabwe had achieved a lot using its own resources. Zimbabwe’s application to access funds from the Global Fund on Aids was turned down due to perceived technical flaws. Mugabe believes that this is part of a “neo-colonial onslaught” against his government.


The paucity of detail in the presidential message could be reflective of commitment to fighting the pandemic. There was no mention of treatment, which is a crucial subject at this juncture. Does Zimbabwe have a policy on Aids orphans or on gender and HIV and Aids? Policies on HIV and Aids at the work place have not been properly ventilated.


Then there is the perennial problem of professionals in the health sector leaving the country in droves. There is need for a bigger commitment from the Office of the President. Why not use the costly musical galas which attract the youths to spread the word? Musical galas have gobbled $2 billion this year. Compare that with the $3 billion expended on ARVs between December last year and September this year.

Let it play!


Malawi Health minister Hetherwick Ntaba captured the commitment, or lack of it, last week at a Southern African Editors’ Forum conference in Mangochi, southern Malawi.


“If there was a foreign invasion and 10 people per hour were being killed in Malawi, we wouldn’t be sitting here,” said Ntaba. “We would suspend everything. We would be out there fighting. Ten people are dying of Aids in Malawi every hour but are we fighting?”


There are however sub-Saharan countries whose leaders have led from the front in prevention and treatment.


Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki chairs a cabinet action committee on HIV and Aids. He has also brought on board leaders of Kenya’s main religious groupings in the fight. In Botswana, President Festus Mogae influenced the decision to provide free ARVs and to develop a national programme on the prevention of mother to child transmission.


Malawi has now appointed a Minister of Aids Health to co-ordinate the national response to the pandemic. In Lesotho, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and 80 civil servants were publicly tested in March this year.

We need the same commitment in Zimbabwe.

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