Africa and the HIV/AIDS epidemic

HIV/AIDS is one of the major causes of death and a big public health concern in many African countries.

According to reports, more than two-thirds of the world’s infected population (35 million people) were in Africa of whom 15 million people have already died.

What are the most affected regions?

Sub Saharan Africa is the most affected region with 69 percent of all people living with HIV and the region accounted for 70 percent of all AIDS deaths in 2011.

The epidemic has contributed to high death rates and reduced life expectancy by about 20 years among adults between the ages of 20 and 49 in Sub Saharan African counties that are most infected.

North African countries and those in the horn of Africa have a lower prevalence rate compared to the Sub Saharan countries given their limited engagement in high-risk cultural patterns that have been responsible for the rapid spread of the epidemic in Sub Sahara.

South African countries like South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Zambia are among the worst affected countries on the continent.

The epidemic is responsible for the immense human suffering on the continent causing illnesses and deaths. Reports indicate that more than half of hospital beds in Sub Saharan Africa are occupied by people with HIV-related diseases.

HIV/AIDS has also not spared healthcare professionals like in Botswana, for example, 17 percent of healthcare workers died of the epidemic between 1999 and 2005.

Devastating effects of HIV/AIDS on households

The menace of HIV and AIDS in Africa is hugely felt at household level with severe impact on the poorest sectors of society. The epidemic breaks down households as children become orphans after the death of their parents. Most of these children are sent to their relatives and sometimes charity organizations for care and upbringing. Poverty is escalated at household level after the death of income earners in many families leading to misery.

Constant household sicknesses due to HIV/AIDS also contribute greatly to food insecurity in many families as food production activities are neglected or abandoned in such scenarios.

Children who are orphaned by HIV/AIDS in most cases drop out of school due to lack of support and some of them are forced to take on the responsibility to look for income as parents become ill.

Older people are also not spared from the devastating effects of the epidemic as they are forced to start taking care of their sick children and after they take care of their orphaned grandchildren.

How the epidemic has affected the economy

The business community is also hugely affected and economic productivity retarded as some key players in sector are lost, depleting it of the skills while household deaths reduces the market demand for the goods and services produced leading to no growth.

The hopes of raising life expectancy especially in Sub-Saharan Africa have been dealt a bid blow by AIDS. The epidemic has seen more deaths being registered among the youth aged between 20 and 49 years which accounts for about 60 percent of deaths in this region. Unfortunately, this is the most economically productive group that the epidemic is erasing hence leaving the crisis un attended to.

How have stakeholders responded to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa?

Many African countries through their governments and non-government organizations are trying to expand access to treatment in order to extent the lives of those already infected while putting up measures to control further infections at the same time.

Many public hospitals in the continent offer free HIV counseling and testing services to people and they also avail preventive measures like offering free male and female condoms to all people who visit their centers.

HIV preventive campaigns have also been popularized on the continent through undertaking sensitizing programs in different societies like schools, clubs, organizations, among others. Through these programs people are educated on how to avoid the epidemic as well as encouraging them to go for testing to know their HIV status.

Key obstacles

Despite the efforts by the governments and other stakeholders to eradicate the epidemic on the continent, many people in Africa are still unwilling to test and know their HIV status. Most of these fear living with the stigma in case they are found to be HIV positive. This is one of the major obstacles in the fight against the AIDS epidemic in Africa because some of these people who may be HIV positive may go on spreading it to others since they don’t know their status.

There is still limited accessibility to many communities especially the remote ones like islands where the spread of HIV is at a high rate due to congestion and limited sources of income leading to practices like prostitution that accelerates the spread of HIV.

The shortage of facilities that help in the control of HIV/AIDS like the Antiretroviral drugs in many African countries is also a big obstacle in the fight against the epidemic. With the low income levels among the people, there are very few who can afford to purchase these drugs.

Key data facts about HIV/AIDS in Africa

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Africa is the most affected region by HIV/AIDS in the world.

By 2017, there were 800,000 new HIV infections in East and Central Africa, indicating a 30% decrease from 2010 whereas as new infections in West and Central Africa were 370,000 indicating an 8% decrease in the same period.

By 2017, 19.6 million people were living with HIV in East and Southern Africa including 1.1 million adolescents of whom 650,000 were girls. In West and Central Africa, the number of people living with HIV in the same period was 6.1 million including 440,000 adolescents of whom 250,000 were girls.

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