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
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
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?