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An AIDS-free generation for Africa



“Getting to zero. Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.” This message, the current UNAIDS’ vision, is the first thing visitors read on the organization’s main webpage. For the past decades, UNAIDS, the United Nations agency responsible for HIV/AIDS epidemic has been working hard to end the worldwide spread of the incurable AIDS or Acquired immune deficiency syndrome. 

Getting to zero. Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.
In his article “HIV/AIDS in Africa: Less Talk and More Action, ' Dr.Chinua Akukwe, a former Vice Chairman of the National Council for International Health (NCIH) in Washington, D.C. urges the international community to execute concrete actions regarding the "devastating consequences of this hydra-headed monster of a disease in Africa." 



In the introduction, Dr.Akukwe stated that the article was written right after an international conference on HIV/AIDS. The latter took place in Durban, South Africa. According to Dr.Akukwe, the conference had dominated the mainstream print and electronic media in Western capitals. Throughout the article, he went on discussing about the direct and collateral effects of HIV/AIDS in Africa and suggested how to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. The available is available for read.

The global community has a historic opportunity based on solid scientific evidence to end the AIDS pandemic, opening the door to an AIDS-free generation
Poverty, the taboo subject of sex, gender inequity, deficient health care systems, and profound political instability in most African countries are among the main collateral effects Dr.Akukwe cited. In order to make the HIV/AIDS epidemic a souvenir,  Dr. Akukwe recommended the mobilization of the international community for life saving treatment, an in-depth rehabilitation of  African health care systems, the complete commitment and involvement of African leaders in credible HIV programs as well as Africans living in the continent and abroad. 

Dr.Akukwe concludes with a warning. “The time to act is now to save lives and create a better future for Africa,” he wrote. “The much vaunted African renaissance will become a pipedream if African intellectuals and leaders waste time chasing shadows while the proverbial Rome burns. The die is cast.”

The article was difficulty for me to read not because of the writing style of Dr.Akukwe. The statistics he displayed were certainly heartbreaking for me. Perhaps because I am originally from the African continent. This article was an eye-opener for me on the real ugly impact the HIV/AIDS epidemic has on Africa. The focus on Africa may be seen as a negative. Since Dr.Akukwe is himself an African health analyst, his focus on Africa may appear bias. However, the truth is, the African continent is the most affected by this epidemic.

A lot more needs to be done
Otherwise, the article provides an objective and factual review of the HIV/AIDS state on the African continent. The value of the article lies in the fact that an actual African health expert has written the piece; we are getting an African-based perspective on the epidemic, especially when it comes to the potential responses on how to eradicate the HIV/AIDS in Africa.  This is not the case in Dr.Anthony Fonci’s opinion piece “An opportunity to end AIDS pandemic” published in the Washington Past last July. 

The approach of Dr.Fonci is broader and less passionate than the one of Dr.Akukwe.  The tone of the piece is hopeful and the only country clearly mentioned is the United States of America. “More than 8 million people in low-and middle-income countries are receiving lifesaving antiretroviral drugs,” Dr.Fonci wrote. “These medications averted 840,000 deaths in 2001 alone, one of the most extraordinary accomplishments in public health history.”  Like Dr.Akukwe, Dr.Fonci’s focus on the United States could be explained by his American heritage. Dr.Fonci is the Director of NIAID since 1984. NIAID, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, aims to generate basic and applied research that lead to a health improvement for people in the United States and around the world.
 
Referring to successful preventive methods against HIV infection, Dr.Fonci suggests antiretroviral drugs, voluntary medical male circumcision, and daily antiretroviral pill. He points out that the major research challenges remain the development of a HIV vaccine and cure. 

Dr.Fonci joins Dr. Akukwe on how to resolve the AIDS pandemic. He calls on the “global commitment” of the international community (countries, governments), more financial input from donor organizations and rich countries, overcoming legal and political barriers as well as removing the stigma associated with HIV.  The opinion piece was straightforward but hopeful.  The value of this article falls in the fact that the readers have a fair global view of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“The global community has a historic opportunity based on solid scientific evidence to end the AIDS pandemic, opening the door to an AIDS-free generation,” Dr.Fonci concluded.


HIV/AIDS in Africa: Less Talk and More Action

These two pieces complements each other. One hand we have the perspective of an African health expert and on the other hand, the one of American one. Their arguments are similar, especially on possible solutions for the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Both health experts agree that the solutions lie into everyone’s hands: the international community as well as African themselves. Further, their arguments can easily be blended with the ones brought forward by UNAIDS.  

According to the online UNAIDSinfo world overview map, comparative statistics from 2001 to 2011 show that a lot still needs to be done. For instance, the number of adults and children living with HIV went from 20.1 million to 34.2 million. The number of adults and children newly infected with HIV went 3.3 million to 2.5 million. The number of adult and child deaths due to AIDS went from 1.9 million to 1.7 million. The prevalence of young women (15-24 years) infected remains higher than the young men. The percentage of adult prevalence remains the same. 

The international media coverage on HIV/AIDS needs to be revamped

On a worldwide ranking, countries located in East and Southern Africa as well as West and Central Africa are the top 20 UNAIDS list (please check Table on page 2). The 2010 UNAIDS fact sheet on Sub-Saharan Africa states that AIDS-related deaths in the region as well as HIV infection and AIDS-related deaths among children are declining. Yet, the Sub-Saharan African region still shares a disproportionate share of the global HIV burden, women are mostly affected by HIV, and heterosexual sex remains the dominant mode of HIV transmission. 

Therefore, a lot more needs to be done. We are not yet through with the battle against HIV/AIDS. The discussions about ending the spread of HIV/AIDS should not be discussed by health experts such as Dr.Fonci or Dr.Akukwe. An AIDS-free generation in Africa and worldwide will only exist if individuals from the international and African communities truly get involved in nature and with their finances. The international media coverage on HIV/AIDS needs to be revamped. Instead of focusing on what is still going wrong, journalists may look more into more a more positive coverage of the disease. This may rekindle the viewers’ interests who may have grown an “AIDS fatigue.”.

 
UNAIDS Rankings
Countries
Adults aged 15 to 49 prevalence rate (%)
1
Swaziland
25.9
2
Botswana
24.9
3
Lesotho
23.6
4
South Africa
17.8
5
Zimbabwe
14.3
6
Zambia
13.5
7
Namibia
13.1
8
Mozambique
11.5
9
Malawi
11.0
10
Uganda
6.5
11
Kenya
6.3
12
Tanzania
5.6
13
Cameroon
5.3
14
Gabon
5.2
15
Equatorial Guinea
5.0
16
Central African Republic
4.7
17
Nigeria
3.6
18
Ivory Coast
3.4
19
Republic of Congo
3.4
20
Chad
3.4
 
Table-Top 20 infected countries according to UNAIDS Rankings, as of 2009

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