Africa

AIDS and AFRICA

Sub-Saharan Africa is more heavily affected by HIV and AIDS than any other region of the world. An estimated 24.5 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2005 and approximately 2.7 million additional people were infected with HIV during that year. In just the past year, the AIDS epidemic in Africa has claimed the lives of an estimated 2 million people in this region. More than twelve million children have been orphaned by AIDS.

The extent of the AIDS crisis is only now becoming clear in many African countries, as increasing numbers of people with HIV are becoming ill. In the absence of massively expanded prevention, treatment and care efforts, it is expected that the AIDS death toll in sub-Saharan Africa will continue to rise. This means that impact of the AIDS epidemic on these societies will be felt most strongly in the course of the next ten years and beyond. Its social and economic consequences are already widely felt, not only in the health sector but also in education, industry, agriculture, transport, human resources and the economy in general.

How are different countries in Africa affected?

Both HIV prevalence rates and the numbers of people dying from AIDS vary greatly between African countries. In Somalia and Senegal the HIV prevalence is under 1% of the adult population, whereas in South Africa and Zambia around 15-20% of adults are infected with HIV.

In four southern African countries, the national adult HIV prevalence rate has risen higher than was thought possible and now exceeds 20%. These countries are Botswana (24.1%), Lesotho (23.2%), Swaziland (33.4%) and Zimbabwe (20.1%).

West Africa has been less affected by AIDS, but the HIV prevalence rates in some countries are creeping up. HIV prevalence is estimated to exceed 5% in Cameroon (5.4%), CŰte d'Ivoire (7.1%) and Gabon (7.9%).

Until recently the national HIV prevalence rate has remained relatively low in Nigeria, the most populous country in Sub-Saharan Africa. The rate has grown slowly from below 2% in 1993 to 3.9% in 2005. But some states in Nigeria are already experiencing HIV infection rates as high as those now found in Cameroon. Already around 2.9 million Nigerians are estimated to be living with HIV.

Trends in Africa's AIDS epidemic. One of the most important ways in which the situation in Africa can be improved is through increased funding. More money would help to improve both prevention campaigns and the provision of treatment and care for those living with HIV. Developed countries have increased funding for the fight against AIDS in Africa in recent years, perhaps most significantly through the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Global Fund was started in 2001 to co-ordinate international funding and has since approved grants totaling US $3.3 billion to fight HIV and AIDS in Africa.12 Around 60% of the fundís grants have been directed towards Africa and 60% has been put towards fighting AIDS.13 This funding is making a significant difference, but given the massive scale of the AIDS epidemic more money is still needed.

The US Government has shown a commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa through the Presidentís Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Started in 2003, PEPFAR provides money to fight AIDS in numerous countries, including 15 focus countries, most of which are African. In Fiscal Year 2005, PEPFAR allocated US $1.1 billion to these African focus countries.14 The US Government is also the largest contributor to the Global Fund.

Among other things, organizations like PEPFAR and the Global Fund provide vital support to local and community groups that are working 'on the ground' to provide relief in Africa. These groups are directly helping people in need, and many rely on international funding in order to operate. Getting money from large, international donors to small, 'grassroots organizations' can present a number of difficulties though, as money is lost or delayed as it is passed down large funding chains. 

Large variations exist between the patterns of the AIDS epidemic in different countries in Africa. In some places, the HIV prevalence is still growing. In others the HIV prevalence appears to have stabilized and in a few African nations - such as Kenya and Zimbabwe - declines appear to be underway, probably in part due to effective prevention campaigns. Others countries face a growing danger of explosive growth. The sharp rise in HIV prevalence among pregnant women in Cameroon (more than doubling to over 11% among those aged 20-24 between 1998 and 2000) shows how suddenly the epidemic can surge.

Overall, rates of new HIV infections in Sub-Saharan Africa appear to have peaked in the late 1990s, and HIV prevalence seems to be leveling off, albeit at an extremely high level. Stabilization of HIV prevalence occurs when the rate of new HIV infections is equaled by the AIDS death rate among the infected population. This means that a country with a stable but very high prevalence must be suffering a very high number of AIDS deaths each year. Although prevalence remains stable, the actual number of Africans living with HIV is rising due to general population growth.

AIDS awareness billboard in Lundazi, Zambia. (photo unknown)

What needs to be done to make a difference in Africa?

One of the most important ways in which the situation in Africa can be improved is through increased funding. More money would help to improve both prevention campaigns and the provision of treatment and care for those living with HIV. Developed countries have increased funding for the fight against AIDS in Africa in recent years, perhaps most significantly through the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Global Fund was started in 2001 to co-ordinate international funding and has since approved grants totaling US $3.3 billion to fight HIV and AIDS in Africa.12 Around 60% of the fundís grants have been directed towards Africa and 60% has been put towards fighting AIDS.13 This funding is making a significant difference, but given the massive scale of the AIDS epidemic more money is still needed.

The US Government has shown a commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa through the Presidentís Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Started in 2003, PEPFAR provides money to fight AIDS in numerous countries, including 15 focus countries, most of which are African. In Fiscal Year 2005, PEPFAR allocated US $1.1 billion to these African focus countries.14 The US Government is also the largest contributor to the Global Fund.

Among other things, organizations like PEPFAR and the Global Fund provide vital support to local and community groups that are working 'on the ground' to provide relief in Africa. These groups are directly helping people in need, and many rely on international funding in order to operate. Getting money from large, international donors to small, 'grassroots organizations' can present a number of difficulties though, as money is lost or delayed as it is passed down large funding chains. Our page about getting money to local organizations discusses these issues, and the work that such groups do.

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