Sub-Saharan Africa Hit Hardest by AIDS

July 7, 2008 - 7:12 PM

Washington (CNSNews.com) - Faith-based and other organizations battling the spread of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa can't afford to squabble over differences in beliefs when it comes to preventing new infections, officials said Monday.

"We are in the same marketplace," Sophia Mukasa Monico, senior AIDS program officer of the Global Health Council, said at a Capitol Hill forum marking World Population Awareness Week.

"You are selling your bananas, and I am selling my apples. It's unrealistic while you're selling your bananas to say, 'by the way, I only know about bananas and I don't know anything about apples,' when the apples are right next to you," Monico said.

The devastation caused by HIV/AIDS in Africa is so bad that organizations have to use every means at their disposal to stop its spread, officials said.

The "ABC of prevention" - Abstinence, Be faithful and Condom use - requires agencies to recognize that not everybody in the affected countries can be counted on to change their beliefs and halt the epidemic.

While the Catholic Church may tell people if they abstain from sex, or remain faithful to a spouse, they will avoid getting HIV infected, another agency may recommend a combination of prevention measures. Both points of view deserve to be heard, Monico said.

"The best way is you talk about the bananas you want to sell, but also acknowledge the fact that apples are there," she said.

According to figures compiled by officials of the Population Resource Center (PRC) in Washington, a sponsor of the event, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly 70 percent of the worldwide population of adults living with HIV/AIDS. Four of every five children living with AIDS are in Africa.

AIDS is by far the leading cause of death in Africa, claiming the lives of 2.3 million Sub-Saharan Africans in 2001, up from 2.2 million deaths in 1999, and representing 80 percent of all the AIDS-related deaths in the world, PRC figures show.

At the end of 2001, 2.4 million children were living with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. Ninety percent of the four million children under age 15 who died of AIDS were Sub-Saharan Africans.

More than 12 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa are maternal AIDS orphans. Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria and Ethiopia each have over 1 million AIDS orphans within their borders. By 2010, 44 million children in 34 countries hardest hit will have lost one or both parents from the disease, the PRC said.

HIV/AIDS also is having a devastating economic impact on Africa, officials said.

In countries where 20 percent or more of the population is infected, gross domestic product may decline up to 2 percent a year. In South Africa, economic growth will be reduced because of AIDS, resulting in a GDP that will be 17 percent lower than it would have been without AIDS.

Kristin Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, said the approach of agencies fighting HIV/AIDS should be multi-tiered and tailored to specific areas.

"However, there must be a common theme: The U.S. should be aggressively promoting and funding successful programs, like those in Uganda - many of them faith-based, that teach the survival skills of abstinence until a life-long monogamous marriage," Hansen said.

World Population Awareness Week celebrates its 18th anniversary in 2002. It was developed by the Population Institute to alert the public of the consequences of rapid world population growth.

In the past 40 years, the world's population more than doubled, from 3 billion people in 1960 to 6.2 billion today. Some 77 million people, roughly the population of the Philippines or Vietnam, are added to that figure yearly, primarily in lesser-developed countries, reported Jeffrey Jordan, director of program development and operations with The Futures Group International, Inc.

Six countries - India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Indonesia - account for 50 percent of the world's population growth. By 2050, the world's population is expected to stabilize at around 9.3 billion people, Jordan said.

E-mail a news tip to Lawrence Morahan.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.