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Aids in Africa: A Country in Mourning

For the record
Science &
New age recycling
Aids in Africa
Masood Hashmi
BITS club of IBA

From Diana J. Choyce
Nov 22 - 28, 1999

As of 1997 the World Health Organization estimated there was 21 million people infected with the Aids virus in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 9 million of these cases ended in death. In 1998 it accounted for almost 2 million deaths. It is now 1999 and those numbers are rising at an alarming rate. Every day 11,000 new cases arise which is one about every 8 seconds. By 2005 the death toll could reach 5 million deaths per year. This would indicate, among other things, a very real crisis for not only Africa but all countries surrounding it.

The United Nations has recently noted "Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst infectious disease catastrophe since the bubonic plague. Deaths due to AIDS in the region will soon surpass the 20 million people in Europe who died in the plague of 1347 and the more than 20 million people worldwide who died in the influenza epidemic of 1917. Over the next decade, AIDS will kill more people in sub-Saharan Africa than the total number of casualties lost in all wars of the 20th century combined". The sub-Saharan continent accounts for only one tenth of the world population, but it has more than 80 percent of Aids deaths worldwide.

At the heart of these statistics is the effect of Aids on the children of Africa. More than half of all new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa are among women and 80% of the 14 million HIV-positive women of childbearing age worldwide reside there. In many areas the rate of infection is over 75 percent. Nine out of ten infants infected with HIV at birth are from the area with close to 600,000 new infections each year. Over the next decade nearly 40 million children will be orphaned by Aids. These statistics alone should be motivation for a worldwide mobilization to stem the tide of this "pandemic". Otherwise we shall all carry eternal guilt over not caring for our children when they need us most.

Aids has also had an major impact on the areas economy that is growing in devastating consequences. A recent study has found that AIDS cost the country almost 8% of GNP in 1996 and by 2005, Kenya's GNP will be 14.5% smaller than it would have been without AIDS. The South African government estimates that AIDS costs the country 2% of GNP each year. Also hard hit are professionals such as civil servants, engineers, teachers, miners, and military personnel. This has decreased the work force, affected productivity and increased monies spent by companies on heath care to the point that they can't keep up. Some companies hire two people for every position assuming that one will most likely die from Aids.

First we must look to the reasons behind these crushing statistics. Woman are the most at risk to this disease for various reasons. Currently, less than 1% of HIV infected pregnant women have basic care and support services. Girls are not likely to have access to education, information, and finances for their care. An increasing number of these girls are having to drop out of school to be substitute laborers and care givers for HIV infected parents. And many never make it back to their educations. Orphaned children have decreasing access to food, health care, housing and clothing.

And are at great risk of abuses as well as labor exploitation. Without parents they are left to fend for themselves. And the majority fall through the cracks of child welfare. These children are forced to "live off the streets" which causes them to fall to crime and other illicit actions. This has caused an even faster spread of the disease. It's almost an unending cycle.

Then what are the solutions? Some say the key is stopping Aids at its root among mothers and children. It is said that if AZT, a proven effective drug, was given to children it could save more than 40,000 lives per year. However the South African government has stopped the use of AZT in the public health system on

grounds of cost. They have also threatened to pull it from the domestic market. Glaxo Wellcome has offered to sell AZT to the government 70 percent cheaper. Salim Abdool-Karim, head of South Africa's Medical Research Council has said that "the cost of distributing the drug in public hospitals and clinics at 20 million rand ($3.25 million) a year which was well within the government's means". The government contends that AZT is unsafe and causes too many adverse effects.

It could be that this is more of a trade issue to the South African government than is seems. Sources say the it wants to produce Aids drugs on its own in order to bypass exportation from western companies. It also wants to import AIDS drugs from other countries, such as India and Argentina, that don't enforce

intellectual-property rights. The cost of Aids treatment in the US is nearly $750.00 per month. This amount is far to high for people in a country with an annual per capita income of $6,000. So it is understandable that the government wants to find lower cost treatment for its population. But is it doing so at the sacrifice of those same people?

The root of the problem appears to be in profits. The South African drug industry is

largely made up of subsidiaries of Western drug multinationals. And those companies are certainly crying "foul" with the government actions. They have even gone to court arguing that their patents are being compromised along with the needed revenue to develop these drugs. And unfortunately the US has entered the fray. Some would say it seeks to back the profit making "rights" of the drug companies. This fight will probably continue for some time to come. The law is still tied up in south African courts and

drug companies are threatening to pull their investments out of the country.

While the "unaffected" people carry on their petty grumbling, the Aids infected population continues to suffer. Children continue to die or become orphans. Life expectancy continues to spiral down. The old adage "can't we just get along" is almost ludicrous at this point. Because these people need us now more than ever. And its more than time to stand up and demand solutions and get involved. How can we ignore the cries of our children?