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World Bank report Says AIDS Epidemic Beginning to Slow in Many Parts of Africa

The World Bank says the mobilization of grassroots communities, condoms and anti-retroviral drugs is “beginning to slow the pace of Africa’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.” The disease killed more than two million adults and children on the continent last year.

The World bank has released a new report to assess its billion-dollar program set-up in 2000 – The Africa Multi-Country AIDS Program. It says besides better prevention, care and treatment, positive changes are being made in what it calls “social immune systems.” That is, people changing their beliefs, perceptions and behavior regarding HIV/AIDS.

Phil Hay is a senior bank advisor on hand for the release of the report in Kigali.

“This new report, which we launched in Rwanda, was going back over the last six years and basically says what did a billion dollars buy? Now the mission of that program is to dramatically increase access to HIV prevention, care and treatment programs, with the whole idea of stopping the transmission of mother-to-child spread of the disease, especially looking after AIDS orphans,” he says.

The report says signs the epidemic is slowing can be seen in Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe, as well as urban Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi and Zambia. However, the report notes that Southern Africa “remains the epicenter of Africa’s epidemic with unprecedented infection rates.”

The goal of the World Bank’s Multi-Country AIDS Program is to offer “long term support to any country with a sound HIV/AIDS strategy and action plan.”

Hay says, “The country’s voice is the unmistakable voice of authenticity. So, the bank is prepared to come in and help countries with their AIDS fighting efforts, but the country, as a down payment in a way, has to show it’s serious. And a declaration of that seriousness is by coming up with its own plan.”

A combination of zero interest loans and full grants accounts for nearly $1.3 billion over six years. The bank says that is half of its global investment in battling the disease.

The Africa Multi-Country AIDS Program calls for “empowering grassroots communities.” Hay says one such community is a group of former prostitutes in Rwanda, who are HIV positive.

“These were women who were orphans of the terrible genocide in 1994. The one thing they all had in common was being vulnerable and young and without any options. And living in the most dire poverty,” he says.

The women used money from the World Bank program to set up a small farming business to grow vegetables for their town; raise goats pigs for milk and meat; and set up their own tailoring business. Thirty of the 150 former prostitutes are now married and some have children, who attend school. Others have health insurance.

“These women feel empowered. They said look, we’ve got bank accounts now. We’re self-sufficient. They said we are now the jewelry of our country as opposed to being despised and overlooked,” he says.

The World Bank has been surpassed in the amount of money spent on HIV AIDS by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as by PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. But Hay says the bank is here to stay when it comes to fighting the disease.

“The bank believes you can’t afford to be squeamish in dealing with AIDS. If sex workers and prostitutes are still the high-risk groups spreading the disease, those are the groups you have to get up close with and work very collaboratively if you’re going to stem the spread of infection. Now, not all the donors and not all the other development partners in the field feel that way. So I think the message that countries get loud and clear is that the bank was there yesterday, the bank is here today and the bank will be there tomorrow,” he says.

The report says even though progress is being made against AIDS, everyone must remain vigilant against the disease.