Though Africa is making good progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the epidemic threatens more the growth and survival of teenage girls than young men of the same age, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot has warned.
“Young women and teenage girls are far more infected than boys or young men of the same age. They are not infected by boys of their age but by men who are older,” Piot told PANA here Wednesday.
For instance, he said, an 18-year-old girl in Africa was six to 10 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the boy of that age.
“HIV is in most cases spread in the first place by sexual transmission and, so, it has to do with sexual behaviour. But in many parts of the continent it is very much linked to inequalities. It is in the countries of southern part of Africa where you see the highest inequalities, not only economic inequality, but also inequality between men and women and sexual violence,” Piot said.
The UNAIDS chief, however, pointed out that several countries in eastern and southern Africa have registered a decline in new infections and more people are getting access to treatment.
“There are signs of serious progress. We are entering into a new phase in the fight against AIDS and for the first time we have real results.
“In Africa, two million people are taking anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy, but five years ago it was less than 100,000. This is a remarkable progress even if the total in need [of ARV] treatment is four million more,” Piot said.
Piot told the Joint Annual Meeting of the African Union (AU) Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Conference of Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development that governments need to consider future expenditure on HIV/AIDS.
“In the new phase we have to start thinking about the long term. AIDS is going to be with us for many decades,” he cautioned.
Piot told the ministers that they have a very important role to play in controlling the spread of HIV.
The patients who were on treatment today should survive for 10, 20 or 30 years, he said, but the questions facing all people were: “Who is going to pay for this? How are we going to organise that?”
According to UNAIDS estimates, programmes to fight the scourge in Africa currently required funding to the tune of US$4 billion, including the money provided by the Global Fund and the US President’s Fund, in addition to allocations from domestic budgets.
“There is still a funding gap. There is not enough money to provide treatment for all Africans who need it. We estimate that by 2010 there would be a need for about 7.5 billion dollars,” Piot explained.
Citing Ethiopia as an example, Piot said that every month about 10,000 people become infected with HIV and every month about 4,000 people are newly accessing treatment.
“This is good but the gap becomes wider. We cannot stop this epidemic with treatment. We can only stop it with HIV prevention.
“Millions of people have been tested, there are community conversations on it and there is strong leadership on it. But AIDS is still the first cause of death in Africa. Malaria is the second and then pneumonia. That indicates there is still a crisis,” Piot said.
He noted that last year, 1.9 million Africans died of AIDS-related causes.
“That’s a crisis by any standard. And that’s because people in need don’t have access to treatment. The two million who are on treatment most of them would be dead by now,” he added.
Piot mentioned Botswana, Namibia and Rwanda as countries getting close to universal access to ARV treatment.
“In these countries 80 to 90 percent of those in need have access to ARV treatment. That is better than in the United States. It means that it can be done. But we are saying also that in the fight against AIDS we have to think about the longer term and bring it together with other development efforts,” he said.
African countries with the highest rates of HIV infection, Piot said, were Swaziland, South Africa, Lesotho and Botswana.
“Then we have Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda — but in West Africa we have some countries with quite low HIV prevalence, such as Mali with 1 percent and Senegal 2 percent.
Despite the fact that the disease usually spreads through heterosexuality, Piot said that figures across Africa showed that it was not the poorest who were the most infected with HIV.
“It is the ones who have disposable income. But when you are poor and you have HIV that is a real problem,” he said.
Piot also warned the public to beware of people who create false illusions, trying to make money out of the misery of others by claiming that they could cure the disease.
“It is the business of charlatans. Unless something is scientifically proved, people should not sell such substance or advocate it to people,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that some traditional medicine could alleviate some symptoms of HIV/AIDS such as diarrhoea and itching. Panapress.