The key to battling HIV/AIDS and poverty, say representatives from 18 African legislative bodies meeting in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, is working together to create stronger political and economic blocs within the continent. The legislators say cooperation would not only reduce conflicts in the region, but also create stronger trade relationships.
The 230 legislators, representing members of parliament and parliamentary speakers from Commonwealth Africa countries, have been discussing how to fight HIV/AIDS and poverty in Africa.
Addressing the delegates, a member of Ghana's parliament, Francis Osafo-Mensah, painted a gloomy picture of the situation in Africa, saying the continent remains the poorest on the planet.
He said the deadly combination of HIV/AIDS and poverty in Africa has created a particularly alarming situation.
Osafo-Mensah says the loss of life through HIV/AIDS is causing massive social problems, with a growing number of orphans and other children living with HIV/AIDS.
According to the Ghanian official, "In 2010 some 20-30 percent of all children under age 15 will be orphaned in sub-Saharan African countries, even if new infections cease and treatment becomes available to slow down the outbreak of AIDS among those harboring HIV."
Discussing ways to strengthen Africa's economies, Hood Katuramu, a Ugandan parliamentian, says easing restrictions on travel and financial transfers will help create wealth in the region.
"Once we work on freeing people across borders, freeing capital across borders, then that will allow people to go and seek employment, take services where they are [needed] in a wider region, therefore, that will be one of the avenues to create wealth," he said. "We can harness our resources together."
The Ugandan member of parliament also stressed how important it is for African countries to exchange ideas, experiences and information in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
"For instance, we have in East Africa that long road from Mombassa, through Uganda, through Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire. So all along that road we have drivers of trucks who are carrying merchandise and they are many," he noted. "We want to know who are the carriers of HIV/AIDS, and what should be really the interventions that we should make. If we have sex workers along these roads, what interventions are we making so that there is safer sex along all these roads?"
But Katuramu stressed that if the challenges of marginalized groups such as women, children, and people with disabilities are not properly addressed, the continent's efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and to build stronger economies would not succeed.