African Leadership Must Become More Involved in Fight Against AIDS, Critics Say
Six months after African leaders at an Abuja, Nigeria, summit pledged to devote more attention and greater resources to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many health experts say "far too little" has been accomplished, Reuters reports. "There's a lot of talk and many people think there's a lot more talk than action," Bunmi Makinwa, a team leader for UNAIDS workers in eastern and southern Africa, said. While most African leaders say that problems surrounding AIDS stem from lack of money, critics contend that the "quality of leadership, not poverty, is the key." They point to South African President Thabo Mbeki's public skepticism about the causal link between HIV and AIDS as an example of something that has "blunted" the fight against the disease in South Africa, which has more HIV-positive people than any other country in the world, with an estimated five million HIV-positive citizens. "We need the president, the minister of health and most cabinet members to change their tune to end the confusion," Zackie Achmat, head of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, said. By contrast, nations that have taken early action against HIV have seen their infection rates decrease. Senegal reduced its infection rate from 2% to 1.4% through early government intervention. Successes in places like Senegal and the increasing openness of leaders like Festus Mogae of Botswana and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria are signs that HIV prevention and treatment efforts are "gaining momentum" in Africa. Botswana and Tanzania have made moves to provide pregnant women with drugs to prevent vertical HIV transmission, but few governments are providing condoms or targeting prevention efforts at high-risk populations such as sex workers and teenage girls. "Communities can organize themselves, but without political will it just doesn't work," Mark Aguire, director of HOPE's medical center in Ivory Coast, said (Green, Reuters, 11/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.