by Ashley Banfield
Published on: Aug 31, 2001
Type: Opinions

Thirty-six million people worldwide are infected with HIV. Over twenty-six million of those people live in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region most devastated by AIDS. African leaders have already pledged fifteen per cent of their national budgets, but it’s not enough. People are dying, men, women and children together. Every twenty-five seconds, another person living in Africa is infected and there is no sign of a slowing rate. Orphans line the streets without shelter, food or clothing, and mothers fear their children won’t see their next birthday. Welcome to Africa.

HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is found in the blood, semen and vaginal secretions of an infected person. The virus is spread through unprotected sex, sharing needles, barbering and can be passed on at birth. Currently, there is no cure for this terminal disease. Some prescription drugs which can prolong life, decrease pain and the chances of a mother passing the disease to her unborn child, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, average African families cannot afford the drugs, which have already been reduced in price greatly by both the government and drug companies. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a United Nations Assembly that it will cost seven to ten billion dollars annually to combat the disease. Of that amount requested, a mere five Hundred twenty-eight million has been offered, two Hundred two million was pledged by the US.

Financial pledges are not the only things that need to be done. In order to turn this epidemic around, several things need to happen. Primarily, there needs to be education about the disease. Many infected African men still believe that by having intercourse with a virgin and ‘cleansing’ himself, his disease will be cured. The children must also be educated. TakingITGlobal member Ezekiel Annan of Ghana, Africa, said, “Fighting the epidemic means all must get involved, but it is unfortunate that the most vulnerable in the society have been neglected”. Secondly, condoms must be distributed, especially to those women who work in the sex trade industry and to men who are away from their home for long periods of time, such as truck drivers. Those who are employed by such means contribute to the highest percentage of HIV infected cases in Africa. Condoms must also be branded as a clean, proper and safe item, as many believe condoms to be dirty and evil. “I have to mention that the pandemic is not only causing economic havoc, but it is crippling the minds and souls of African men and women. I think as of now they should be more preaching about life skills to the little ones, because the condom gospel has not helped anyone” said Dlamini Sandile Clement from Sawziland, Africa. Thirdly, the government and drug companies must find a way to provide prescription drugs at a very nominal cost, or no fee at all. Moreover, the government must help to wash away the stigma that is associated with the disease. Many Africans live in denial because of the shame that the disease brings to a family. In most African countries, doctors succumb to both social and legal powers not to record AIDS as the cause of death on certificates, as they are made public and families would feel shame and be outcast if others knew.

This epidemic is not only that of the eastern world. “Let no one imagine that we can protect ourselves by building barriers between us and them” said Annan. He then added, “For in the ruthless world of AIDS, there is no us and them”. The United Nations General Assembly held a special session to address the spreading epidemic. Among those attending were heads of state from some of the hardest hit countries in Africa, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Kenya, Nigeria, Botswana and Lesotho. Future steps on combating the disease are uncertain and clashing. Twenty-six million people are dying. How many more must suffer?

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