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Staying the course with HIV/AIDS in Africa

An SOS counselling class for HIV-positive children in Nairobi, Kenya
An SOS counselling class for HIV-positive children in Nairobi, Kenya

In the headline banner of its 2013 Special report, UNAIDS proclaims ‘How Africa turned AIDS around’ but World Aids Day will hopefully remind Africa’s nations not to let this progress slide.

Nearly 70% of the 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS are in African countries (23.5 million people). Over the last decade, the continent has seen significant progress in tackling the disease. In 2011, there were 33% fewer AIDS-related deaths in Africa than in 2005 and by 2013, more than 7 million people across the continent had access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. This huge scaling up of treatment has significantly reduced the number of new infections being reported each year and there was a 24% reduction in new infection rates among children from 2009 to 2011.

However, even in countries which have successfully reduced HIV infection rates, there are still areas of huge concern. So for example, in South Africa, which has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS (at 5.6 million), the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières has this week warned that many clinics in the country are either running short of or have already run out of ARV drugs. In a survey conducted among more than 2,300 of South Africa’s 3,800 public health facilities, MSF found the ARV drug supply had been affected in one in five clinics over the previous three months. Speaking to Reuters, a spokesperson for an HIV/AIDS advocacy group in South Africa commented that stock-outs were “one of the principal barriers to maintaining an effective treatment programme”.

MC Nairobi, Kenya

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Kenya is another example where great strides have been made with widening access to ARV treatment. However, a recent official report estimated that three-fifths of HIV positive children were not receiving ARV therapy. Health professionals are now also extremely worried about the possible impact of a new government bill, which if passed, would cap the foreign funding of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at 15% of their budget.

Kenya has around 1.6 million people living with HIV/AIDS and NGO’s currently provide medical and support services to many of them. Around 80% of funding for drugs and testing also comes from external sources. Therefore, if the proposed bill is passed and comes into force early next year, NGOs are extremely worried about the huge impact this could have on the HIV positive population.

On World Aids Day this year, the message from HIV/AIDS organisations and campaigners will therefore be one of optimism thanks to the progress which has already been made in Africa. However, this will be tempered by concern over the commitment of some nations to the continued support and expansion of ARV treatment. 

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