Stakeholders in Africa in the fight against HIV/AIDS are proposing a common African approach to curbing the pandemic. More than 70 percent of the world’s infected are said to live in sub-Saharan Africa. Voice of America English to Africa’s Lameck Masina reports that statistics show more than two thirds of all people with HIV/AIDS live in Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than three quarters of all AIDS deaths in 2007 occurred.
But the United Nations’ AIDS agency, UNAIDS, recently announced that previously accepted figures for the disease were not accurate and that the real figures are much lower. African countries are skeptical and have met the announcement with great caution.
Vitus Nanbigne is the HIV/AIDS coordinator for an African HIV/AIDS charity in Ghana. He says, “The announcement for the UNAIDS that the HIV/AIDS figures have been exaggerated must not allow us to [let down our guard]. The threat posed by HIV to generations of young people is not an exaggeration and [the infection rate] has certainly not been reduced.”
The latest estimates show that in 2007, about 1.7 million people in the region were infected, bringing the total number of people living with the virus on the continent to 24.4 million. This has prompted African countries to propose an African approach to curbing the pandemic.
Some in Africa have said they’ve discovered cures for the disease, or treatment for the symptoms of HIV/AIDS, among them herbal remedies. But none of these are known to have been tested under the strict conditions insisted upon in the West, and so have not been offered on a wide scale.
Akuzike Tasowana is the communications and advocacy officer for Malawi Network of AIDS Service Organizations – an umbrella body of AIDS organizations in the country. He says what the African doctors found are not necessarily the cure for HIV/AIDS.
“I wouldn’t really say that they have found the medicine, but probably what they have found is the [treatment] for an opportunistic infection of HIV/AIDS. We have never found a person [African doctor] who has come forward to say, ‘Hey doctor, can you test scientifically the person I have treated?’”
In 2005 local media reported that the son of the doctor who claimed to have found the cure for AIDS had died of the disease.
Retired Major Courage Quashigah is the minister of Health in Ghana. He says AIDS could have been prevented among Africans if they had stuck to their culture. He notes that some, for example, say that polygamy is safe, since custom encourages sexual relations only between a man and his wives.
“The problem with Africa is that we just condemn our own culture without examining exactly what are the benefits of that culture. And in our own culture before, abstinence before marriage was the norm. If we had maintained this culture up to this time a lot of teenagers who have carried the virus would not have carried the virus. And I believe that [the] best thing we can do for our people is to go back to our culture and reexamine it properly,”he says.
But Tasowana says tradition can also encourage the spread of AIDS. “There [is traditional] culture where if a man dies and leaves a wife, his brother gets the wife. Now you never know what killed your brother and in the coarse you can transmit the disease. And there are several cultures that promote the transmission of the virus. We are not entirely blaming culture but we are trying to modify those cultures.”
Nanbigne says besides the cultural aspect, a recent African HIV conference held in Accra, Ghana, proposed the strengthening of certain effective approaches in dealing with AIDS in some African countries.
“Number one; all people infected by HIV must have a consistent access to medications. Number two; all pregnant women must undergo counseling and testing in order to protect the unborn babies. African governments must create opportunities for young people to engage themselves more profitably and therefore avoid the risks of acquiring the virus.”
Delegates to the Ghana AIDS conference also proposed the formulation of a common policy framework for all African countries to help fight the pandemic. They say among other things, the policy will enhance advocacy, affordability and accessibility of anti-retroviral medications; help fight stigma and discrimination; and encourage behavioral change.