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AIDS optimism in Africa

Michele Sidibe
Michele Sidibe

NAIROBI, Kenya — The AIDS epidemic represents the biggest challenge to improving the lives of people in Africa, but it can be contained with the right programs and the required resources, says a U.N. report released Sunday.

UNAIDS — the agency coordinating global efforts to fight AIDS — found that innovative and proven programs and methods for preventing infection and treating those afflicted exist. But, researchers reported, programs were still too small and underfunded to slow the spread of HIV — the virus that causes AIDS.

The report, "Accelerating Action Against AIDS in Africa," was released on the opening day of the 13th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa, which opened Sunday in Nairobi with 8,000 delegates expected to attend.

"It is important for us now to address these issues of HIV and AIDS," said Michel Sidibe, a director at UNAIDS. "We cannot ignore the emerging crisis, the nexus between food security, governance and HIV."

The conference will concentrate on providing better care for those infected with HIV. The UNAIDS report makes clear the need to keep HIV patients healthy and in the work force.

"The effects of AIDS in Africa are eroding decades of development efforts. In high-HIV-prevalence countries, families are unraveling, economies are slowing down, and social services are deteriorating," the report said. "In Southern Africa, where HIV prevalence is higher than anywhere else in the world, AIDS has exacerbated food insecurity, demonstrating how the epidemic and humanitarian crises intertwine."

The report lists programs for prevention and treatment that have proven successful, including the distribution of generic anti-retroviral drugs in Senegal, a workplace anti-AIDS program in Ivory Coast and an AIDS awareness campaign in Uganda.

"These examples prove that AIDS is a problem with a solution: human intervention works, even under the most difficult circumstances," the report said.

More than 30 million people in Africa are infected with HIV, making up about 70 percent of the AIDS cases in the world. While UNAIDS and the World Health Organization report that the HIV infection rate in east Africa appears to be declining, the agency has found little headway in southern Africa.

"The growing number of effective prevention and treatment efforts in Africa proves that a massive expansion of the epidemic need not be inevitable," the report said. "AIDS is not unstoppable in Africa."