1,000 People Contract HIV Daily in Ethiopia; Epidemic Affecting Economy, Official Says
Approximately 1,000 people in Ethiopia contract HIV each day, and the country is facing "alarming growth" in its HIV/AIDS epidemic, a government official said on Thursday, Reuters reports. Teklu Belay of the country's HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office said in a statement that the disease is impacting the Ethiopian economy because of increases in worker absenteeism, according to Reuters. He said, "Studies indicate that due to HIV/AIDS infections, employees in the country's work places were absenting themselves between 30 to 240 days annually." Teklu did not provide statistics on HIV/AIDS prevalence or mortality rates, Reuters reports (Reuters, 5/20). The Ethiopian health ministry in October 2003 announced it would begin providing antiretroviral drugs at no cost to poor HIV-positive people in the country. Up to 2.2 million of the country's 70 million people are HIV-positive (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/19). However, the government has yet to roll out an antiretroviral distribution program, Reuters reports. The situation in Ethiopia likely will be discussed during the Group of Eight meeting in Sea Island, Ga., in June, according to Reuters. Officials have said that "concerted action" is necessary to "break the cycle of poverty and illness" facing the country, according to Reuters (Reuters, 5/20).
'At a Crossroad,' Lewis Says
U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis at a news conference on Saturday said, "Ethiopia is at a crossroad. If the government views HIV/AIDS as an emergency, it would be defeated. But if it is not treated as an emergency, the pandemic could wreck havoc in the country." He added that although Ethiopia is receiving "significant" support from the international community to fight AIDS, the government has not yet acted to bring the disease under control, according to Reuters. "The funds are available, the medicine is available, but people are dying unnecessarily," Lewis said, adding, "Free distribution of medicine should be a priority for the government" (Reuters, 5/24).