The Problem with the Phrase ‘AIDS in Africa’

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa- Peppered throughout headlines, social media sites and non-profit publications, the phrase “AIDS in Africa” is everywhere.  

And understandably so. Of the 34 million HIV-positive people around the world, 70 percent live in sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, there are roughly 24 million infected people in all of Africa, the continent that is home to 88 percent of the world’s HIV positive children.

Because of the AIDS crisis, the average life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa is 54 years of age. It some countries, the number drops to below 49 years.

However, while it is true Africa sees crisis-level numbers of people infected with HIV, the horrible disease does not affect all countries uniformly. A point that ONE, the anti-poverty campaigning and advocacy organization co-founded by Bono, is striving to make.

ONE, an organization 3.5 million people strong, seeks to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030. An issue at the forefront of its efforts is AIDS- a virus responsible for the deaths of more than 1.6 million people per year.

And as a part of its research and advocacy work on the matter, ONE and its 2013 AIDS Report would like to draw attention to the fact “African countries have made widely divergent progress toward the beginning of the end of AIDS” thus, “a one-size-fits-all approach to tackling AIDS on the continent does not make sense.”

Referring to ‘AIDS in Africa’ belies the fact that in Cameroon, for example, the prevention of mother-to-child transmission coverage rate is 64 percent, whereas in Ghana, the rate is 95 percent. Furthermore, Cameroon, with its population of 21.7 million, saw 34,561 deaths due to the disease last year. By comparison, Ghana, with a larger population of 25.3 million, saw 11,625 AIDS-related deaths.

Such vast differences, seen all over the continent, demonstrate how progress against AIDS “has not been uniform.” Thus, looping all African countries together with the phrase “AIDS in Africa” works counter to the unique, country-specific strategies required for individual nations to move forward in the fight against this disease.

ONE’s 2013 AIDS Report groups African countries into four different categories based on the level of progress each country has seen. The most promising countries are referred to as having reached the “tipping point.”

“Defined as the moment when the total number of people newly infected is equal or less than the number of people newly added to treatment,” the tipping point refers to a real turning point in the fight against AIDS. ONE considers it to represent the beginning of the end of the virus.

The report identifies 16 countries as having met the tipping point. Five countries are “Close to the Tipping Point,” 14 countries are filed under “Acceleration Needed” and two countries have been labeled as “Progress Reversed.”

What accounts for such a range of progress throughout Africa? For one, the report identifies, “political will and financial investments have varied dramatically between countries.” In Ghana, Malawi and Zambia, for example, “international donors, national governments and key civil society leaders work together to achieve accelerated progress in the fight against AIDS.”

Even just at the beginning of the decade, Zambia and Malawi were both crippled by widespread AIDS epidemics. Today, ONE’s Report considers them, along with Ghana, the “world’s leaders in ending the epidemic, having made swift and steady progress over the last few years.”

Progress that, assuredly, brings hope to those nations who lag behind in the fight against AIDS.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: ONE, AMFAR, Do Something
Photo: UFV Cascade

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