African AIDS Epidemic:

Africa, quite possibly the birthplace of humanity, the continent that might have spawned the human race now finds itself struggling for survival with the modern day plague, amid relative international silence toward its epidemic. According to a recent study by UNAIDS approximately 70% of adults and 80% of children living with HIV in the world call Africa their home. Of the over 23 million estimated cases worldwide in which AIDS was believed to be the cause of death, three-quarters of this pestilential population died in the lands accredited as the origin of mankind. The cusp of human civilization is now rapidly becoming the continent to a mass burial, and all this with very little response by the Western world, which appears to be far more fascinated with the court proceedings of the Michael Jackson case than an epidemic that decimates an entire population.

Here are some numbers attributed to HIV/AIDS in relation to various African nations, provided by aidsandafrica.com (a website devoted to bringing global awareness to the African HIV/AIDS epidemic):

South Africa: Est. number of people living with HIV/AIDS (2003): 5,300,000. Adult population rate with HIV/AIDS (2003): 21.5%. Total adult literacy rate (2000): 14.8%. Zimbabwe: Est. number of people living with HIV/AIDS (2003): 1,800,000. Adult population rate with HIV/AIDS (2003): 24.6%. Total adult literacy rate (2000): 11.3%. Botswana: Est. number of people living with HIV/AIDS (2003): 350,000. Adult population rate with HIV/AIDS (2003): 37.3%. Total adult literacy rate (2000): 22.8%.

An entire graph of all the nations of Africa with these and other statistics related to HIV/AIDS can be downloaded through the website aidsandafrica.com.

Education and common access to drugs are a necessity to the general population of Africa, but these traits usually meet resistance for a number of reasons, including poverty on a mass scale, and the risk to social control that an educated public presents to its ruling political institutions.

In a Time magazine article by Johanna McGeary, the lack of education to AIDS by the African population is described as, “Ignorance is the crucial reason the epidemic has run out of control. Surveys say many Africans here are becoming aware there is a sexually transmitted disease called AIDS that is incurable. But they don’t think the risk applies to them. And their vague knowledge does not translate into changes in their sexual behavior. It’s easy to see why so many don’t yet sense the danger when few talk openly about the disease. And Africans are beset by so plentiful a roster of perils – famine, war, the violence of desperation or ethnic hatred, the regular illnesses of poverty, the dangers inside mines or on the roads that the delayed risk of AIDS ranks low.”

All this in addition to the communal consequences of being considered a social pariah in a village or town where an AIDS victim may live, and it’s easy to understand the monumental struggle Africa faces when confronting this epidemic.

Unfortunately, another difficulty in dealing with AIDS in Africa is the politics surrounding access to low-cost drug treatments. Because of cost production toward treatments to fighting AIDS, and the pharmaceutical companies’ prevalence to excessive profits, enough pressure is put on in a political environment which doesn’t allow access to the kind of drugs that could ease the suffering to many people afflicted with this terrible disease.

In an article called “The Politics of AIDS Drugs in Africa,” by Kwame Kuadey, the bureaucratic dilemma is explained as, “The drugs used to fight HIV/AIDS are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies usually based in Europe and North America. These companies spend billions of dollars on research and development of HIV/AIDS drugs. They are therefore determined to profit from their drugs at all cost. This makes them less sympathetic to the plight of AIDS patients in Africa. As rightly noted by Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to the United Nations, ‘Pharmaceutical companies would rather treat a bald American than a dying African.’ This is because the chances of the company recouping the money investment in research and development of the drug are far greater. South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda have attempted to produce generic versions of these HIV/AIDS drugs to help fight the disease in their respective countries. There is nothing illegal about this practice. According to Article 31 of the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Agreement – an agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights – a country has the right, by declaring a ‘National State of Emergency,’ to look for and investigate the possible production of cheaper alternative drugs.

This agreement therefore allows South Africa and other African countries to produce cheaper drugs due to national emergencies. Besides the drugs are for public, non-commercial use. However, this attempt has been strongly resisted by the drug companies. They have been able to successfully lobby the US government to the point where former US Vice President Al Gore actually threatened South Africa with trade sanctions for trying to develop generic and cheaper drugs to fight AIDS.”

The first defense against the death of civilization is the awareness through education of the cause that is doing the killing, yet all the education in the world means nothing if that knowledge is not followed with by action.