According to a 1999 World Health Organization (WHO) report, the total number of actual diagnosed AIDS cases on the African continent is about equal to the total for AIDS in America and yet Africa today is cited as the worst example of HIV/AIDS in the world.
Last week the The National Aids Control Commission (CNLS) conducted a two-day workshop to determine appropriate ways to implement evidence-based HIV prevention measures during which they discussed results of innovative research and programs that have contributed to HIV prevention. As is the norm, the press were reminded that, ‘Rwanda has a 3 percent prevalence of the epidemic, which remains a major challenge to the entire world, especially sub-Saharan Africa.’
True, the highest HIV rate in the world can be found in Africa but on closer scrutiny, you will find that every country in Africa has its own HIV story.
For instance, Senegal has the same rate as the United states while Madagascar’s rate is as low as the rest of the world.
‘[There is] a terrible simplification that there is one Africa and things go one way in Africa. It is not respectful and it is not clever to think like that,’ commented Dr. Hans Rosling, a renowned professor in global health at a May 2009 TED conference in California.
In order to successfully fight HIV, it is important to dispel the common myths and negative portrayal of the ‘developing world’ because gives the impression that Africa is world’s away from the west.
Yet statistics indicate that most of the third world is on the same trajectory toward better health and prosperity, and many countries on the continent are moving twice as fast as the west did.
This negative portrayal can be blamed on African governments that need the continent to be defined by hopelessness and poverty in order to appeal to the sympathy and charity of foreign donors and receive aid.
Equally to blame is the foreign press whose emphasis on coverage of Africa is largely defined by civil war, hunger, famine and HIV/AIDS prevalence.
‘Africa has immense opportunities that never navigate through the web of despair and helplessness that the western media presents to their audience,’ remarked Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan journalist who addressed the same conference.
Let this not be over simplified as a call to end aid or donor support but rather an invitation to the friends of Africa to look more closely and track the progress of the epidemic at a micro level and thus apportion help where it is most needed.
There is a dire need for newer HIV/AIDS medications due to a shortfall in funding as a result of the current global economic crisis. HIV/AIDS funding is stagnating and the prospect of universal access to treatment may be withering – millions of people in are in immediate need of treatment, but are not receiving it.
So yes, more money is needed but throwing money at a problem may appease the many in the developed world but will not be a solution. While it maybe offensive to the sensibilities of the developed world towards giving aid to “poor Africans”.
Donors should critically asses the individual nations and communities that are most affected and apportion funds in a way that empowers communities towards self reliance, gender balance and better HIV/AIDS education.
If this is not done, we shall continue to expand bureaucracies, shrink free markets and sadly- diagnose the HIV problem in Africa incorrectly - at the expense of people who really need help.
The author is a Rwanda in the US