HIV-AIDS rates in Africa are highest than any part of the world. Africa is home to approximately 22.5 million people with HIV which is two thirds of the world’s total. The HIV-AIDS epidemic in Africa (more so in sub-Saharan Africa) continues to devastate communities and negatively affecting development in the region. This paper will explore development and impact of HIV-AIDS in Africa which is said to have already reversed 30 years of hard won social progress in some African countries.
The Rapidly Growing HIV-AIDS Epidemic
The spread of HIV-AIDS in Africa has been so rapid and even exceeded the worst projections. According to World Bank statistics, Africa accounts for two thirds of the 34 million people with the virus globally. The epidemic continues to spread as studies suggest that about 16, 000 new infections occur daily worldwide. Approximately 14 million people have succumbed to this devastating disease and the death toll continues to rise yearly. HIV-AIDS is a growing epidemic and an emerging disease.
The region most affected by the disease is Sub-Saharan Africa (herein referred to as Africa). By 1998, SSA was home to 22.5 million people were living with the disease representing almost two thirds of the world figure. The same year saw at least 4 million new infections. Cook, (2006, CRS-2) further indicates that infection rate among adults were at 7.2% in Africa as compared to 1.1% infection rate in the rest of the world. It is estimated that since 1982, 27.5 million Africans have died to HIV-AIDS complications with 2.4 million dying in 2005 alone. The UNAIDS estimates that if the current trend continues, then Africa will lose an estimated 55 million people to the disease between 2000 and 2020. This implies that AIDS has surpassed malaria as the number one killer in Africa (Cook, p.4).
Characteristics of the AIDS Epidemic in Africa
Transmission of HIV-AIDS in Africa is mainly by sexual contact (especially heterosexual contact) although there may be other incidences through which the disease is spread like unsafe medical practices.
Women are the most affected and UNAIDS estimates that about 13.5 million women are affected. This is about 57% of the total number of infected adults, way higher than the global 46%. The report notes that young women are at a greater risk; 4.6% women aged 15-24 years were affected in 2005 compared to 1.7% of young men. The World Bank further puts a grim picture in some African countries like Ethiopia, Malawi and Zambia where for every 15-19 year old boys affected, there are 5-6 girls.
African children are the most affected by the AIDS epidemic than any other in the world. According to UNAIDS, over 600,000 infants in Africa get infected yearly with HIV through the mother-to-child transmissions. Most of these children do not make it before their second birthday and by 2003, an estimated 1.9 million children in Africa were thought to be living with the virus. AIDS has rendered a further 12.3 million children orphans in Africa representing 28.3% of all orphans. This number increased to 18.4 million in 2010 representing 36.8% of all orphans. Due to AIDS stigma, these orphans are at a greater risk of abuse, malnourishment and not being educated. Human Rights Watch groups claims that African governments have not adequately addressed the problems that these orphans (Cook, CSR-3). The World Bank adds that infant mortality rate in South Africa will rise to 60% higher with the epidemic than if it were not there, in Zimbabwe and Zambia the rate is at 25% further estimating that by 2010, Zimbabwe’s rate will have doubled.
Africa’s HIV-AIDS infection rate has stabilized or fallen between the years 2001-2009, according to the recent UNAIDS report. These figures suggest that there is a change in behavior that has altered the course of the epidemic. Countries like Uganda and Kenya have seen prevalence decline although prevalence may have stabilized or slightly increased in southern African states. In west and central Africa, prevalent rates remain unchanged with much local variation.
The highest rates of the epidemic have been reported in southern Africa. Southern African countries have reported adult infection rates above 10%. This part of Africa represents about 30% of infected people in the world or 45% in Africa out of the about 1.68% affected world population. South Africa leads the pack with an estimated 5.3-5.6 million people affected while Nigeria (because of its populous number) has about 3.6 million (Cook, CRS2-3).
Social and Economic Consequences of the Epidemic
Social and economic consequences of the AIDS epidemic have been widely felt in Africa in almost every sector of the economy. The challenges faced by Africa include;
- Provision of health care and support to a growing number of HIV-AIDS population
- How to coping with millions of deaths due to AIDS, an increasing number of orphaned children and other survivors as well as a declined national development.
- How to reduce annual AIDS toll of new infections by enabling individuals protect themselves and others (AVERT).
Africa has felt the worst brunt of AIDS consequences. AIDS has caused severe negative economic progress and continues to do so in Africa. Africa has been hardest hit and faces a demographic catastrophe as other diseases not only decrease life expectancy but also impoverishing the poor (especially orphan cohorts). The epidemic has been known to generate political instability and slowed democratic development in Africa (Cook, CRS2-3). The World Bank’s conclusion with respect to the economic future of Africa is that the illness and impending deaths (25%) in some African countries will impact negatively on national productivity. Labor productivity will definitely drop and education benefits will be lost as money for investments will instead be used for funerals, taking care of the sick & orphans while loss of human capital will affect not only production but also quality of life for many years to come.
As the HIV-AIDS prevalence rates increase, the national income will decline as well as resulting to a 2% GDP decline per year if 20% of the population in affected. Economic growth in South Africa is expected to decline by 0.3-0.4 percent annually due to the epidemic leading to a lower GDP. The country’s households will be spending more to care for the affected reducing their 13% of disposable income (AIDS in Africa).
Effect of AIDS in rural areas
Effects of AIDS in rural African areas have been well documented often showing that the father is the one who falls ill first. When this happens, the family will sell its domestic goods including farm tools and animals to help pay medical expenses. This leads to impoverishing the already poor family. If the mother follows suit, then the children will bear the responsibility of taking care of the family. Many later become orphans. The UN reported that in 2001, AIDS killed 7 million farm workers and will cause about 16 million to die by the year 2020 in Africa’s hardest hit countries. This will also result to serious food shortages due to AIDS losses due to reduced labor. Negin, et al. estimates that more than 3 million people aged more than 50 years are infected representing 13% of HIV cases in Africa.
Depletion of work force
AIDS has killed many productive workers across Africa. This has resulted to reduction of skilled workers (especially teachers) in many African countries and the epidemic is claiming many more. Dr. Piot Peter, UNAIDS executive director, estimates that up to 10% of African workforce will be lost to AIDS by 2006. These trained personnel are reportedly not replaced easily. Shocking reports indicate that in 2002 over 30% of teachers in Malawi, 20% in Zambia and 12% in South Africa were HIV positive.
AIDS infections among the military in Africa are reportedly very high and this is likely to cause serious security threats. This means that domestic political stability is at stake as well as peace keeping services. An example is in South Africa whose military is expected to be 23% infected (Cook, CRS-5).
Response to the Epidemic
African governments must take the first initiative and invest in the epidemic to deter more spread of the virus. As the ado goes ‘prevention is better than cure’ and this is what should be done. Prevention is less expensive than treatment and will result to avoiding sickness, death and any socioeconomic impact. A UN HIV/AIDS meeting in New York concluded that efforts must be redoubled to ensure that commitments to achieving universal prevention, treatment and care are achieved. Cook suggests that despite the fact that AIDS has resulted in severe deterioration of economic conditions, there is more that can be done to avert the epidemic. Some of the suggested responses include;
Use of antiretroviral therapy
Use of ARVS is known to have yielded good health dividends across many African countries. Example in South Africa, use of ARVS has resulted to decline in mortality rates (Global report, 2010, p.107).
Intensifying and improving national response
A consented national response will result to prevention efforts to the vulnerable groups reducing the impact of epidemic on the economy. Effective programs of effective HIV prevention include change of behavior to reduce contraction risks, use of condoms by ensuring that they are available and affordable, effective diagnosis and treatment (World Bank, p.20). Pedian, et al. asserts that behavior change includes getting tested, male circumcision and preventing mother-to-child transmission.
Address vulnerability causes
This means addressing low social cohesion and social destructuring. Programs should be put in place to address the most affected (women and children) and ensuring that they are provided with improved economic opportunities and children are educated. Street children’s problems should be addressed to reduce their problems as they are most vulnerable. Care for the orphaned and the affected.
Overall, governments should ensure that they have put right mechanisms in place to reduce HIV transmissions, reduce suffering and mitigate impact of the disease. More emphasis should also be put on researching a cure and possibly vaccinations against the disease.
Current WHO reports (2010) indicate that more developing countries have shown a universal access to HIV/AIDS is possible and this has led to steady progress in HIV/AIDS reduction in many African countries. Dr. Paul De Lay, the executive deputy director at UNAIDS says that the biggest stumbling block to conquering AIDS in Africa has been short of cash. But if shortage of funds is resolved plus other problems like limited human resources and other health bottle necks, the epidemic will be curtailed. Despite high AIDS prevalence rate in Africa, good responses to the epidemic will not only lower mortality rates but will also reduce new cases. The future of HIV/AIDS prevention should pegged on a sustained effort and careful planning among the African countries and the international community. The UNAIDS has so far commended success in Sub-Saharan Africa in reducing HIV new infections and reduced mortality rates. All stakeholders should move in first enough or else what has been achieved will be eroded.