AIDS is one of the world’s most devastating diseases
The plague known as AIDS kills millions of people each year, with children being a large percentage of the victims. A few decades into the epidemic there still is no known cure or vaccine for the devastating disease. As researchers continue to work on a cure, drugs have been developed and are being administered which help a person with AIDS live longer than they otherwise could untreated, often many years longer.
In Canada, and most other western countries, these drugs are readily available and are used by nearly all AIDS patients. These drugs, in addition to effective education and awareness regarding the disease, have helped developed nations get the HIV/AIDS epidemic under control. But sadly, it is not like that everywhere in the world. In Africa particularly, one of the world’s poorest places, AIDS remains a wildly virulent disease that is still killing millions and debilitating entire swaths of the population, mainly a result of people not being able to afford treatment.
First, let’s get some background information on a continent most people know little about. Africa is made up of many nations. Going back to the early part of the last century most were operating as Italian, French, Portuguese, British, German, and Dutch colonies. Most African nations are fairly young, on average most of the countries in Africa have received their full independence in the past 50 years. With newly-gained independence, a struggle for political power often led to outright war. Wars between countries, various ethnic groups and civil wars have plagued the continent for years. Many countries have changed boundaries, names, and some have even just disappeared, becoming a part of another country. All of this turmoil and war has left Africa extremely poor. The income of most Africans is $400-$700 a year, making it nearly impossible for a typical African with AIDS to afford proper treatment.
With war, civil war and political unrest, many African governments have not had AIDS education and awareness high on their priority list. Additionally, AIDS, while affecting many people on the continent, at times doesn’t compare to the immediate plight of millions of people in Africa suffering from famine. Famine is a problem that has plagued the continent for years. Famine is a major problem in Africa, exacerbated by the crops people plant: peanuts destroy the topsoil and turn the land into desert. This makes it impossible to plant anything on the land again once it has been destroyed. The weather also affects the crops; in sub-Saharan Africa, rain comes in monsoons which are large storms that dump a large amount of rain. And if these monsoon rains don’t come, the crops die. Which means that people essentially don’t eat that particular year, in that country. And this kills millions of people in Africa each year. When it occurs, this problem becomes the top priority of most African governments and aid agencies in Africa. Which means that AIDS will most likely get worse in Africa before it gets better.
Let’s get some background on AIDS. People can get AIDS in many ways. Some include bad blood transfusions, being injected with used needles, coming in contact with a person infected with AIDS blood, and unprotected sex. These lead to getting AIDS, and eventually death. And these are just some of the reasons why people in Africa are dying by the millions because of AIDS.
The lack of AIDS medications in Africa is taking its toll. Today in six countries in southern Africa, between 8 to 25 percent of doctors will die due to AIDS by 2005. And in a continent where doctors are few and far between, this is an extraordinarily high number. But, AIDS in Africa isn’t only affecting doctors. In seven countries in the southern cone of Africa, 80 percent of all deaths in young adults aged 25-45 will be because of HIV or AIDS. It is also estimated that in 20 years the population of some countries in Africa could drop by half.
The fact is that a lot of people with AIDS in Africa are modern professionals: doctors, engineers, and others in the newly-formed African middle class. The fact that most AIDS victims in these countries are professionals, the country’s best and brightest, is worrying many African governments. These people are needed to help the continent become richer, and pull these countries out of poverty. And without these highly skilled people many African countries will continue their circle of poverty.
There are many reasons why Africa has such a high number of AIDS cases. The main reason is because, many Africans are having unprotected sex, and many people in Africa are not educated about the dangers of AIDS or unprotected sex. Recently the President of South Africa made a comment doubting AIDS existed. This is one of the other reasons why people in Africa have high AIDS cases. Many just don’t believe that AIDS exists, and so they don’t take proper precautions to avoid contracting the disease.
Also, many African countries do not have proper hospitals or clinics for their citizens. Unlike Canada, many African hospitals do not have sophisticated medical equipment that can screen donated blood for diseases. So, this means that if someone in Africa needs a blood transfusion, they could potentially get blood infected with AIDS. African hospital sometimes use needles over and over again. This means that you can also contract by being given a used needle.
Not, everyone in Africa gets AIDS by having bad blood transfusions or by being injected with dirty needles in African hospitals. Most of the children in Africa contracted AIDS when they were born because their mothers had AIDS when they were pregnant with their child.
The AIDS problem in Africa can only be helped if proper medical treatment and AIDS drugs are available for every African who has AIDS. Major progress is being made today. Many of the companies who make AIDS drugs may soon start lowering the prices so that these particular drugs can be affordable for someone in Africa with AIDS. Also volunteers with many organizations such as the Red Cross and officials with the United Nations are going into Africa to help educate the public about the dangers of AIDS, what AIDS actually is, and how to prevent getting AIDS in the first place.
It is the hope of many people that AIDS in Africa will soon be brought under control. Until then, the people of Africa will have to be better educated about AIDS and what it can do to a person. Until this happens, AIDS will continue to plague the continent for years to come.
Written by Faze teen contributor Michael Dunham
To learn more or to get involved yourself, check out:
Unicef Canada has tons of information if you want to get involved through school, with the aid of your parents and teachers.
Stephen Lewis is the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa but his love and concern for Africa started way back in the 1960s when he was a teacher. He was also the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations in the 1980s. Now he travels extensively across Africa to bring attention to women and children ravaged by the pandemic of HIV/AIDS.
The Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS brings attention to HIV/AIDS causes worldwide.
Check out other stories in this series online at Faze:
Produced with the support of the Government of Canada through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).