News / Africa

UN Hails Drop in AIDS-Related Deaths in Africa

Nurses work in the pharmacy at the general hospital in Man, western Ivory Coast, July 4, 2013.
Nurses work in the pharmacy at the general hospital in Man, western Ivory Coast, July 4, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Anita Powell
— The United Nations’ AIDS agency is hailing what officials describe as significant progress in the fight against the epidemic in eastern and southern Africa. The report says AIDS-related deaths have declined dramatically and that the number of new infections has decreased - a direct result of more available treatment. But, they warned, challenges remain.  

Top health and aid officials praised the gains in the fight against AIDS in southern and eastern Africa - among them, a nearly 40 percent drop in AIDS-related deaths since 2005, and a 50 percent drop in new infections among children since 2001.

The cause, they said was simple: The number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment has increased tenfold, from 625,000 in 2005 to 6.3 million in 2012.



But this disease, said Ethiopia’s health minister, is not about numbers. Dr. Kesetebirhan Admasu said he is still haunted by some of the patients he met when he was in practice a decade ago. At the time, he said, Ethiopian hospitals were full of suffering AIDS patients. The disease was taboo, he said, and the media portrayed it “as a horror.”

He was one of the first doctors to begin treating AIDS patients in Ethiopia. At the time, treatment was expensive and complicated.

“When we started the program, over a period of one year we only managed to put 5,000 patients on ART," he said. "They had to provide some kind of proof that they will continue to receive the treatment and pay for it. I still remember vividly a mother of six who came to my clinic to seek treatment. She was jobless, her husband died of HIV, and two of her daughters were working for the government. And she had to bring her two daughters to, you know, assure us that they will pay for her treatment.”

Dr. Kesetebirhan did not say what happened to the patient.  But he said that his government is trying to make her story a rarity by implementing aggressive health-care measures, including a veritable army of specially trained health workers and free access to AIDS drugs.

It appears to have worked: Ethiopia is among seven African nations where the number of AIDS-related deaths has fallen more than 50 percent since 2005. It is also one of seven countries where the rate of new infections has halved.

The country with the world’s heaviest AIDS burden, South Africa, has also made gains. UNAIDS estimates that some 5.6 million South Africans are infected with HIV.

South African Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi said he was optimistic, especially since the health ministry under his tenure has shifted to an evidence-based, scientific approach to AIDS.

Motsoaledi’s predecessor, who served for nearly a decade, drew international criticism for rejecting the value of AIDS drugs and touting herbal treatments for AIDS such as garlic and beetroot.

“It’s quite encouraging to realize that the tide is turning," he said. "In South Africa, I wouldn’t have said so just less than three years ago. Minister Admasu is talking about 10 years in Ethiopia.  I’m sure you are aware we have had our own 10 years, which I don’t want to talk about. But at the moment, there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.”

Motsoaledi noted great decreases in the rate of mother-to-child transmission and said more South Africans are getting tested than ever before.  He also said the government would next year start vaccinating all 9-10-year-old girls against Human Papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer and also increases the likelihood of HIV infection.

But, he said, his nation’s health system is struggling to accommodate its various burdens, and needs to come up with a novel solution.

“When you add the number of people who need treatment from HIV/AIDS, those who need treatment from TB and the non-communicable diseases, our health facilities are going to be extremely overstretched," said Motsoaledi.

"So that tells us that together with all the development partners, we need to start planning and innovate new methods," he added. "So the innovation we are coming up with in South Africa which is far advanced, we are working on an innovation where these people who are very stable, on ARV treatment, on TB, even [non- communicable diseases], who do not need to see a doctor or a nurse should no longer report to health facilities but can receive their treatment in many other localities: community pharmacists, chain stores around our country, private doctors nearer to them. They must just wake up and go to the nearest facility.”

Officials also noted their remaining concerns. For example, HIV prevalence among young women was 4.5 percent in 2011 - more than twice the rate among young men. And the officials acknowledged that convincing young people to take precautions against HIV remains a major challenge.

You May Like

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid