Leadership, Resources Important to Fighting HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, Economist Reports
The Economist this week examines the HIV/AIDS epidemic in southern Africa, specifically in Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa. Botswana has the distinction of being among Africa's richest nations, with a stable democracy and little corruption. However, the country also has the highest HIV adult prevalence rate in the world at 38.5%. According to the Economist, Botswana's mining industry is the key to both its prosperity and its high HIV prevalence. The gold and diamond trade has bolstered the nation's economy, but the single-sex communal living conditions of the miners -- where alcohol and prostitution are frequent diversions -- have contributed to the spread of the virus. In addition, the miners, who are often migrant workers, can transmit the virus to their wives or girlfriends when they return home.
Leadership and Resources
Although South Africa and Mozambique face similar situations, Mozambique lacks Botswana's monetary resources and South Africa lacks the country's leadership on HIV/AIDS. The Botswanan government, led by President Festus Mogae, has been active in HIV/AIDS education efforts. Mogae presides over every session of the National AIDS Council, and all government ministers begin every speech with a message about the disease. The government also sponsors an education campaign that utilizes posters and a radio soap opera to spread prevention messages and has entered into partnerships with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Merck Company Foundation to provide antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive Botswanans. The CDC and Harvard University have also sent technical support. In contrast, the South African government, led by President Thabo Mbeki, has wavered on HIV/AIDS. However, the government has recently taken steps to provide wider access to antiretroviral medications and has tripled its HIV/AIDS budget (Economist, 5/11).
More Needs to be Done
"Much more is needed from rich and poor alike if AIDS is not to reverse years of development," the Economist states in an accompanying editorial, noting that AIDS "blights almost every activity of government, every facet of the economy, every aspect of everyone's life." Although some African nations such as Botswana and South Africa have taken steps to battle the epidemic, a "vast amount remains to be done, especially in Africa, where most politicians are still far too reluctant to confront the realities of the pandemic," the Economist states, saying that stigma against those with the disease and sexual violence against women are two major problems that contribute to its spread. "An equally big campaign is needed to supply condoms and, above all, information about AIDS," the editorial says. In addition, antiretroviral drugs are needed on a larger scale. "The world's 40 million HIV sufferers need drugs, not just because they are human beings who deserve treatment for reasons of humanity, but because their early deaths bring huge costs to society and are avoidable," the Economist says, noting that the drugs are now more affordable and easier to administer. "Plenty of obstacles lie in the way of fighting AIDS. Resistance to drugs is certainly one of them. But resistance to the proposition that AIDS still needs a colossal commitment by rich and poor alike should not be countenanced. Too many people are dying needlessly, taking too much with them," the editorial concludes (Economist, 5/11).