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AIDS in Africa: more than 29 million people in Africa are infected with a deadly virus.

Justin is a 14-year-old from Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), he had to quit school and find work after his parents died from AIDS-related illnesses. Today, Justin supports himself and his two siblings, barely, by delivering food for local merchants.

"The main problem we have without our parents is finding food," he says. "We never have enough money for food or school fees or basic things we need, like clothing."

Justin's plight is common in Malawi and other sub-Saharan nations. There are now 16 countries in Africa in which more than one tenth of 15--to 49-year-olds are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. For this reason, AIDS researchers call Africa a "dying continent."

The disease has caused more devastation here than in any other place. United Nations (UN) statistics paint a grim picture:

* More than 29 million people on the continent suffer from HIV/AIDS. That is two thirds of all reported HIV/AIDS cases worldwide.

* About 8,500 people in Africa die each day from AIDS.

* Of the 13 million children orphaned by AIDS worldwide, 10 million are African.

Mass killers are nothing new to Africa. Historically, the continent has suffered from famine, disease, civil war, and natural disaster. Centuries of colonial rule by European countries, corrupt African rulers, and ethnic strife have created political, social, and economic instability in many African nations.

The impact of HIV is felt even more keenly. Because the virus kills so many Africans in the prime of their lives, it also weakens families, reduces the workforce, disrupts the educational system, and tears apart communities.

"HIV is now more destructive than any army, any conflict, any weapon of mass destruction," says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Few Medical Resources

Testing positive for HIV once meant a death sentence. But in many countries today, people infected with HIV are living longer, largely because of improved medications.

However, few Africans can afford HIV/AIDS drugs, which can cost anywhere between $500 and $1,000 per month. Importing these medications is too much of a financial strain for already overburdened African governments. On average, African nations spend about $10 per person each year on health care.

Poor access to medical care and weak infrastructures (see "WORDS TO KNOW") throughout the continent prevent many Africans from receiving medical attention. In Mozambique, a nation where 13 percent of the population is infected with HIV, only three clinics test for the virus. The UN estimates that of the 29 million HIV/AIDS victims in Africa, fewer than 50,000 receive medical care.

Lack of education among the African population has also contributed to the AIDS epidemic (rapidly spreading disease). Many Africans don't understand how the HIV virus enters the bloodstream and attacks the body's natural defenses. Widespread superstitions lead some to think the virus is the product of a curse. Infected individuals are discriminated against and shunned, increasing the chances that the virus will spread unchecked.

"We surf the Internet," one AIDS researcher in Senegal told a British news organization, "but we still go to the witch doctor when we have a [medical] problem."

"The Deadliest Enemy"

On his tour of Africa last summer, President George W. Bush promised the African people that the U.S. would step up efforts to help combat the disease.

"This is the deadliest enemy Africa has ever faced," he said, "and you will not face this enemy alone."

The President had recently signed into law a $15 billion package to help pay for HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa and the Caribbean. The pledge calls for $3 billion in annual funding for the next five years.

AIDS researchers in Africa welcome the effort, but warn that the amount is not enough. The UN estimates that at least $10 billion is needed annually to fight HIV/AIDS in underdeveloped countries.

"AIDS will only be defeated," said Dr. Peter Plot, a UN official, "when responsibility for addressing it is fully shared--with every nation working to meet the ... challenges presented by this global epidemic."

A Global Challenge

Seven African countries now have infection rates of 20 percent or higher--

* Botswana (39 percent),

* Zimbabwe (34 percent),

* Swaziland (33 percent),

* Lesotho (31 percent),

* Namibia (23 percent),

* Zambia (22 percent), and

* South Africa (20 percent).

The UN predicts that if the current HIV infection rate continues, life expectancy in most African nations will fall below 30 years of age by 2010.

In response to the epidemic, more than 40 African countries have established national strategies on how to combat HIV/AIDS. Such programs have started to show some results. HIV infection rates in South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya have decreased in the past two years. And UNICEF reports that many community-based organizations are bringing AIDS-awareness programs to rural and urban areas. Young people are at the forefront of this effort.

One youth leader, Doreen, works with a South African theater group that teaches others about the causes of AIDS, and what they can do to help stop its spread.

"If people accept responsibility over their lives and declare they have had enough of AIDS," says Doreen, "we can bring it to an end."

But much work remains to be done. UN researchers fear that a generation of Africans has already been lost to the HIV virus. Treating and caring for the millions of Africans living with AIDS poses a tremendous challenge to the continent--and to the entire world.

RELATED ARTICLE: Words to know.

* AIDS: Short for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. A disease caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), in which the immune system is attacked and weakened.

* Infrastructure: A system of basic facilities, such as roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals, that are needed for a community to function.


Students should understand

* the sub-Saharan region of Africa has been ravaged by HIV/AIDS.


Invite a medical professional, HIV/AIDS counselor, or the school nurse to visit your class and speak to students about HIV/AIDS awareness.


The United Nations estimates that AIDS will orphan about 20 million African children by 2010. African orphans suffer on many levels. They are often forced to drop out of school in order to care for a dying parent and support surviving family members. Children who treat infected parents or relatives are sometimes exposed to the same illnesses that attack the HIV-positive adult, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.


MAKING INFERENCES: Why do some AIDS researchers call Africa a "dying continent"? (According to statistics, an enormous percentage of the reported HIV/AIDS cases worldwide occur in Africa. The illness has not only ravaged the African population, but has also depleted the workforce, disrupted education, and created a generation of orphans unprepared to lead healthy, independent lives.)

CAUSE AND EFFECT: How does HIV affect some of the continent's poorly educated population? (Many Africans don't understand the health measures that help prevent HIV/AIDS. Superstitious beliefs prevent some infected persons from seeking proper medical care, thus increasing chances that the illness will spread unchecked.)


AIDS TIME LINE: Have students research the history of AIDS and create a time line to reflect their findings. Afterward, conduct a classroom discussion on how national governments should respond to health epidemics.



* People, places, and environment: How HIV/AIDS has affected sub-Saharan Africa, and the epidemic's impact on some African governments, healthcare systems, and economies.

* Power, authority, and governance: How some African governments have recently undertaken efforts to decrease the spread of HIV throughout their national populations.



* Kerr. ME., Night Kites (HarperTrophy. 1987). Grades 7-8.

* Hyde, Margaret O. Know about AIDS (Walker & Co., 1997). Grades 5-8.


* AIDS Awareness

* United Nations AIDS Program


Your Turn


1. Is the U.S. doing enough to help combat AIDS in Africa? Why or why not?

2. How does Africa's AIDS epidemic affect the rest of the world?
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Title Annotation:World
Author:Landauro, Victor
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Nov 10, 2003
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