Battling Africa's HIV/AIDS Pandemic

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective
June 28, 2001

With an estimated 22 million people already killed world-wide from the deadly HIV/AIDS virus, many of them from Africa, the continent seem to be racing against time to bring this "pandemic" under reasonable control.

Like every other "bad" things associated with Africa these days, it certainly wouldn't be an easy task. With the continent's road infrastructure almost non-existent or those that are available badly neglected, one wonder how the disease could be brought under rapid control without reaching Africa's poverty-stricken masses that live mainly in the rural areas.

While much of the debate about AIDS has been taking place in African and other world capitals, it is fair to say that it would entail a massive educational and prevention campaign in order for any comprehensive program to be successful on the continent.

That is why the impassioned pleas by some African leaders, who have been attending the UN's three-day special session on HIV/AIDS, should be taken seriously. But why "help is on its way", there's much to be desired on the part of African leaders in confronting the virus head-on. First and foremost is the question of "stability," without which, very little could be done to effectively combat the disease.

If they were only to consider achieving "stability" as a necessary part of the solution, African leaders would, perhaps, be able to accomplish more than they presently are in terms of providing badly needed care for those unfortunately inflicted with AIDS.

As the Prime Minister of Mozambique, Pascoal Manuel Mocumbi, eloquently put it when he addressed the UN special session on the virus: "Our families are increasingly impoverished, our work force drastically reduced and our children increasingly orphaned. The basic social and economic fabric of communities and political stability of nations are threatened."

Commenting specifically on UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan's, proposed Global Funds for HIV/AIDS, Mr. Mocumbi emphasized that "no commitment we declare today will achieve the desired results if adequate resources are not provided consistently and sustained over time." He could not have said it any better.

Although the UN did adopt a Declaration of Commitment at the end of its historical session, aimed at setting specific goals and timetables for member states, the fact that the document would NOT be binding in any way truly lessens the chances of making meaningful progress in reversing the spread of the disease in Africa.

But unless African governments strive simultaneously for stability along side their fight against the spread of the AIDS pandemic, the continent's future in trying to control the disease look very bleak.

Notwithstanding, the recent announcement by the Pfizer Foundation, an offshoot of world pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer Inc., that it would fund the construction of a "State-Of-The-Art" clinic in Africa (Uganda), couldn't have come at a more opportune time.

The mere fact that the Foundation would even consider Africa, best known for its frequency of coup d'etats and instability than any thing else, should be an indication that some companies were listening attentively to Africa's loud cry for help in battling this deadly disease.

The Foundation's goal to train clinicians from "across the continent" on the latest treatment options for AIDS patients should be exactly the kind of action needed at this time to keep the virus in check on the continent.

Obviously, the construction of such a facility would be the easy part. The hardest challenge would be for Uganda to remain a relatively stable country so that African medical practitioners, especially those willing to fight the disease, can acquire the relevant knowledge and skills there.

In this regard, President Yoweri Museveni should be given the necessary support to ensure that Uganda's budding democracy survive peacefully, because disruption of any kind would automatically threaten or even jeopardize the center and its mission.

The UN and other institutions should continue to play their part by encouraging dialogue between the Museveni government and all political factions there, so that the clinic could be build under the right circumstances.

Equally, the Ugandan opposition, particularly, Dr. Kizza Besigye, himself a medical doctor, who should know first-hand about the consequences of HIV/AIDS, should be challenged to do everything possibly within his power to ensure the clinic's success for the sake of Africa's suffering masses. They should allow nothing to stand in the way of this very significant project. Above all else, they should put their nation, and for that matter Africa, above self and gallantly rise to the challenge.

Because the clinic would be based strategically in Kampala, at the Makerere University Medical School, Ugandans should take pride in being considered for this very high honor which comes probably once in a lifetime. The opportunity to serve the whole of Africa should be one that all "progressive" nations crave for, and Uganda rightfully deserves.

As President Museveni has acknowledged: "This new center is an important step for Africa as we seek to control the AIDS pandemic and improve the quality of care", adding, "this new approach will complement the work our own doctors are doing and can have a positive impact across Africa."

All Africans who are likely to benefit the most from a clinic of this kind could definitely share these sincere remarks. The facility by itself could do absolutely nothing to effectively slow the virus unless African health workers fully utilized its services.

It is here that African governments could help by strongly encouraging their medical workers not only to take advantage of the training that the center would be expected to provide, but also to immediately put into practice all that they would learn from there.

After acquiring the correct knowledge and training, it is hoped that African doctors, nurses and other medical personnel would then awaken their spirits and take on AIDS like never before with a new kind of "revolutionary zeal". They should realize personally that they surely couldn't afford to fail the African people as politicians and soldiers have.

They (African medical personnel) ought to make the "conscious decision" like Argentina's famed world-revolutionary, Che Guevara, who also happened to have been a medical doctor, to fight injustice wherever it reared its ugly head. And as we know so well, the rest is history.

It would be a grave injustice if Africans were to generally allow this pandemic to keep spreading, thereby, causing the continent's already dwindling population to be completely wiped out.

One way to effectively combat the virus, would be for those who benefit from the center, to form various groups similar to a rapid deployment force, that could ably respond to new cases of AIDS across Africa's "artificial" borders. Such groups could also teach preventive methods to the impoverished African masses.

Another way would be to encourage African medical doctors, nurses and other health professionals, who are actively practicing abroad, to return to the continent periodically to help fight the disease there. It wouldn't hurt either if they were to also take along some of their professional colleagues of other ethnic groups to help during their visits.

In view of the chaos going on in Africa, they could serve in any country there other than their own, if in fact, the political situation in their home countries is unsafe for them.
The bottom line is that the African masses need their help at this particular time.

Who knows! Maybe it's just what the continent needs to overcome the looming tragedy of the pandemic that is so swiftly destroying Africa's population.

Now that Pfizer Inc. has responded to Africa's pleas, it is incumbent upon every African to support and utilize the center if and when it is completed. If not, we should have ourselves to blame instead of our traditional scapegoats ­ colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, etc.

Because of the UN's HIV/AIDS Declaration, it has become very critical that African leaders take their cue from Uganda's President, Museveni, and Senegal's President, Abdoulaye Wade, who are said to be succeeding in battling the dreaded disease in their respective countries.

Their success in containing the virus once again proves that given the "right kind of leadership", Africa could indeed save itself from this nightmare. But sadly, "the right kind of leadership" is exactly what many African countries are lacking today.

Regardless, it is the "moral responsibility" of every leader in Africa to ACT NOW so as to prevent the pandemic from spreading even further. This is the only way that Africa could quickly win its battle against AIDS and turn the situation around.

For subscription information, go to:
or send e-mail to: