Africa at “make-it or break-it” over Aids

Africa is now at “a make-it or break-it moment” in the response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic, according to Michael Sidibe, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Speaking at a press conference at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa on Saturday, Sidibe said there had been massive advances over the past decade in the fight against AIDS in Africa.

“Ten years ago, we were told that treatment was too expensive”, he recalled. At that time, the life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs cost 14,000 US dollars per person per year. But the fight to acquire affordable AIDS drugs has been successful – costs are now down to 120 dollars per person per year, and over five million HIV-positive people were receiving treatment in Africa.

Success stories could also be told about prevention, Sidibe added. “Young people are now completely changing their behavior”, he claimed – with the result that there has been a drop in new HIV infections of about 25 per cent in 22 countries.

But these gains “are not sustainable”, Sidibe warned, because they are heavily dependent on foreign aid. Around 90 per cent of the medicines given to HIV-positive people are not produced in Africa. Many countries are 100 per cent dependent on foreign resources for treatment.

Africa now faces what UNAIDS calls an “AIDS dependency crisis”. Sidibe wanted to see Africans taking more responsibility for the response to the epidemic.

UNAIDS believes that African can negotiate a new “shared ownership-shared responsibility” agenda with international partners. This has become urgent because the amount of foreign aid going into combating AIDS is falling. According to the UNAIDS statistics, international investment in fighting AIDS declined by 13 per cent from 2009 to 2010.

Dependency on foreign donors for the drugs that keep people alive “creates enormous risks”, UNAIDS warns, “since external aid remains unpredictable”.

A UNAIDS document on the subject argues that “Africa can bridge the resource gap with strong political leadership, leveraging its strong economic growth, and by adopting innovative funding opportunities”.

These would include meeting the AU target of earmarking 15 per cent of national budgets for health, exploring the wider availability of soft loans from the African Development Bank, and increasing taxation on such items as tobacco, alcohol, mobile telephony and international money transfers, with the resulting funds earmarked for fighting HIV/AIDS.

Also key was reducing dependence on imported pharmaceuticals, “and developing a common drug regulatory authority” which will “ensure sustained access to good quality life saving medicines”.

On this front, Mozambique is making some headway. The UNAIDS statistics for Mozambique show that 97 per cent of the country’s expenditure on care and treatment comes from foreign sources. But that is about to change – a pharmaceutical factory producing anti-retroviral drugs, and financed by Brazil, is under construction in the southern city of Matola, and should begin production in July.

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Post published in: Africa News

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