Africa’s Curse: HIV/ AIDS

Last month I was in Ethiopia and South Africa, and this month I’m visiting Botswana and Zambia—4 of the 5 countries hardest hit by the global HIV / AIDS epidemic.

Here’s just a few of these countries’ startling statistics:

  • South Africa: The country with the most people – 5.6 million – living with HIV / AIDS 
  • Ethiopia: Each day, 353 new people contract HIV/AIDS
  • Botswana: 26% of population is infected with HIV/AIDS
  • Zambia: 65% of HIV/AIDS infections are contracted through marriage

Africa’s suffering is acute. Although the continent only has 10% of the world’s population, Africa has 68% of all HIV/AIDS infections.

This year, 1.5 million Africans will contract HIV / AIDS, and 1.2 million Africans will die of HIV/AIDS. Two-thirds of Africans living with HIV/AIDS don’t receive the medications they need for treatment.

Africans are particularly prone to the virus due to entrenched poverty and illiteracy, as well as high unemployment and the recent migration from rural to urban centers.  Infected Africans must also cope with social stigma and open discrimination.

Children's beds at an HIV/AIDS orphanage.

Women & HIV/AIDS

Africa’s women and children suffer the most: 75% of all women living with HIV/AIDS reside in Africa. And 9 out of 10 AIDS orphans are African.

African women are particularly vulnerable due to the region’s widespread sexual violence (both inside and outside of marriage). Sexual violence damages the tissues and increases the risk of HIV transmission.

In addition, African women must cope with harmful traditional practices such as early marriage, genital mutilation, and wife inheritance. This entrenched societal inequality also makes it difficult for the region’s women to negotiate condom use.  

Hope on the Horizon

I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture, but there is hope on the horizon. Currently in Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland, and Namibia, 80% of pregnant mothers receive HIV/AIDS treatment. The region has also seen a 32% reduction in HIV infections of children under the age of 15 and 26% decline in AIDS-related deaths.  

One of the organizations that I volunteered with in Ethiopia, the National Network of Positive Women Ethiopia (NNPWE) provides education and treatment at the local level and works to decrease the social stigma attached to HIV/AIDS.

In fact, one of their programs – my favorite – is a national beauty contest for women living with HIV / AIDS.  It’s a small but significant step toward reducing the ugliness that is the African AIDS epidemic.

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This entry was posted on Monday, September 12th, 2011 and is filed under Africa.

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