Progress Seen In Some African HIV/AIDS Prevention, Treatment Programs, U.N. Special Envoy Says At World Economic Forum On Africa

Several African countries have successfully scaled up their HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs, U.N. Special Envoy for HIV and AIDS in Africa Elizabeth Mataka said during a media briefing at the World Economic Forum on Africa being held in Cape Town, South Africa, the ZANIS/Lusaka Times reports. Zambia and Botswana were among some of the countries that have made significant progress in southern Africa, according to Mataka.

She said it is encouraging that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Zambia recently dropped from 16 percent to 14 percent, which she attributed to ongoing government efforts and cooperative partners. “Mataka also commended the Zambian government for widening access to ARVs from 2,000 beneficiaries about five years ago, to the current 200,000 people,” ZANIS/Lusaka Times reports.

“The HIV/AIDS pandemic, especially in sub-Sahara Africa, is still a serious concern to the United Nations. But we are comforted by the fact that none of our co-operating partners have reneged on their financial commitments despite the prevailing global financial meltdown,” Mataka said. She also called on African countries to use male circumcision as an integral part of their HIV/AIDS strategies (ZANIS/Lusaka Times, 6/11).

‘Africa’s Hidden Epidemic’ Highlighted

Health professionals at the Forum highlighted the emergence of non-communicable diseases during a session titled, “Africa’s Hidden Epidemic,” Health-e reports. Although AIDS, TB and malaria have “been the most visible ravagers of the African continent,” the session focused on the “effect of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” which is increasing at “an alarming rate,” according to Health-e.

Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s health minister, said a “deathly transition” is occurring between communicable and non-communicable diseases in the developing world. Craig Nossel, a physician from Discovery Health, said, “The challenge for us is to translate” the threat of non-communicable diseases “into economic terms” to get investment for wellness programs.

Nossel said indicators show that countries such as South Africa and Brazil, which currently have a significant burden of HIV and TB, would face a significant burden of diseases such as cancer and diabetes by 2050 (Thom, Health-e[1], 6/11).

Health, Human Rights Advocates Gather At Forum

African health and human rights advocates on Wednesday gathered outside the forum, calling on leaders “‘not use the same pie and split it between more people,’ but to make the pie bigger,” Health-e reports. Paula Akugizibwe of the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa described advocates’ demands, which include “a challenge to the region’s leaders to guarantee the right to health, ensure that it is financed as a priority, and mobilise the additional resources needed to secure universal access to TB/HIV prevention, treatment and care,” according to Health-e. Akugizibwe said Africa’s health crisis preceded the global economic downturn, adding, “The economic downturn is merely the final catalyst for disaster” (Thom, Health-e[2], 6/11).

Organization That Prevents Mother-To-Child Transmission Receives Award

The Schwab Award was presented at the Forum to Mothers2Mothers (M2M), an organization that tries to prevent HIV-positive pregnant women from passing the disease on to their unborn children, VOA News reports. According to Gene Falk, M2M’s executive director, there are about one and half million HIV-positive pregnant women in the world and 1.3 million of those women are in sub-Saharan Africa. “If you don’t have any intervention, a third to 40 percent of those women will transmit the virus to their babies,” Falk said.

The M2M program employs about 1,400 HIV-positive women, who conduct approximately 130,000 counseling sessions each month. The organization operates in 500 locations in Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia. According to Falk, “Having a woman, who herself has been through this, the pregnant mother can identify with, who can speak her language, who isn’t seen as an outsider, completely changes the dynamic” (De Capula, VOA News, 6/11).

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