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HEALTH-AFRICA: Facing AIDS, Malaria Amidst Brain Drain

Moyiga Nduru

JOHANNESBURG, Mar 16 2007 (IPS) - As though the decimating effects of HIV/AIDS and malaria were not enough to deal with, African countries also have to battle with the continuing exodus of health professionals leaving the continent for greener pastures.

Some 400 Anglican ministers from across the world discussed these and other issues at a week-long conference (7-14 March) entitled ‘‘Prophetic Witness, Social Development and HIV and AIDS”. The church arranged the conference in Johannesburg to examine Africa’s progress towards achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the 77-million-people-strong church, also attended. Delegates expressed concern about the slow movement towards meeting the MDGs. They are seeking ways for Africa to meet the goals.

Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane told the conference that, ‘‘today there are 40 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. Around 25 million of these live in sub-Saharan Africa. And this year, more than 3 million will be infected in Africa.” He has been tasked with driving the Anglican Church’s HIV/AIDS campaign.

‘‘Tuberculosis, which so often takes advantage of those with AIDS, will claim two million livesùthe great majority in Africa. Malaria will lead to more than a million deaths, 90 percent in Africa, and most of these among children. There will be over 300 million acute cases of malaria globally this year,” Ndungane continued.

‘‘And today in Africa we hear the cry of over 48 million orphans and the number is rising fast. A quarter is the result of HIV/AIDS,” he said.

Noticeably, the word ‘‘condom” was hardly mentioned at the conference. The rate of condom use is one of the indicators for MDG 6 which deals with HIV/AIDS and malaria. Only presenters from outside the church made passing reference to it. People of the cloak were seemingly reticent about the life-saving gadget. Many churches fear that the promotion of condoms will result in increased promiscuity.

Nomusa Njoko, a South African singer living with HIV, told IPS that ‘‘the church lacks compassion when dealing with people living with HIV/AIDS. I was kicked out of the church when they found out that I was living with the virus. And all my friends abandoned me.

‘‘Regrettably, pastors too have become difficult to gain access to. You need an appointment to see your local pastor,” she said.

Regarding malaria, Peter McOdida of the International Medical Corps and chairperson of the Kenyan non-governmental organization (NGO) Alliance Against Malaria argued at the conference that it is a pressing issue which continues to be ignored.

‘‘Malaria is the leading killer disease in Africa. Every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria in Africa. It is the disease of the poor and the most vulnerable groups. But it does not get as much attention because it is not directly infectious and is invisible,” he said.

TB and HIV/AIDS are more visible than malaria. ‘‘HIV/AIDS grabs the headlines and dominate programme emphasis but HIV/AIDS kills fewer people than malaria in Africa,” McOdida told the conference.

His statements are confirmed in a document published by the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa which says that malaria is one of the leading causes of child mortality in Africa. ‘‘Each year, there are around 500 million new infections, which cause between 700,000 to 2.7 million deaths, most of them among young children.”

According to the document, entitled ‘‘Integrated HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Strategic Plan 2007-2011”, children under five years of age account for 82 percent of all malaria deaths. Malaria is responsible for a fifth of all childhood deaths in Africa.

Moreover, nearly half of all requests for treatment in clinics and hospitals in Africa are for malaria. Malaria detrimentally affects African communities by reducing the number of people able to work effectively. Aside from young children, pregnant and poor women and impoverished communities are more at risk and most affected by malaria, says the document.

‘‘Malaria is costing the continent 12 billion US dollars per year. This swallows a lot of the taxes collected in east and central Africa each year and holds back progress towards meeting the MDGs,” contended McOdida.

Nets for Life, an international NGO working in 16 African countries, has embarked on an ambitious programme to distribute one million insecticide-treated nets and to train 5,000 malaria workers in Africa.

Since starting its operations in Africa last year (2006), the group has distributed 19.8 percent of the mosquito nets in countries such as Angola, Kenya and Burkina Faso, according to its Africa director Alexander Matondo.

But even mosquito nets are the target of urban legends. The conference participants heard that in Kenya the story is spread that if you sleep under a treated mosquito net, you will have terrible nightmares. People responded by selling their nets.

At the conference a bishop from The Gambia complained that the president of his country, Yahya Jammeh, had claimed that he has the ‘‘power” to cure HIV/AIDS. He has been administering herbs to people living with HIV/AIDS.

Only eight countries have shown commitment to halting and reversing the incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria by 2015 as per the MDGs, said Mamhla Mniki of the African Monitor, an NGO formed by Ndungane to monitor the MDGs in Africa. Africa has 53 countries.

Seven years after the adoption of the Millennium Declaration only a few African countries are expected to reach their MDGs by the target date of 2015. Mniki said only eight countries are likely to reduce their under-five child mortality rates by two-thirds by 2015. Only nine countries may reduce their maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters.

On top of this, Africa has been unable to hold on to its health professionals. In Zambia only about 50 of the 600 doctors trained over the last 40 years remain today. By 2010, Mozambique will have lost 1,670 physicians and 3,900 nurses to emigration. Zimbabwe trained 1,200 doctors during the 1990s, but only 360 remain in the country, according to an article in the January/February 2007 edition of the academic journal ‘‘Foreign Affairs”.

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