AIDS according to the United Nations remains the most deadly disease for sub Saharan Africa where it is estimated 22 million of the 33 million worldwide sufferers reside. Living with HIV/ AIDS not long ago was an early death sentence with ruinous consequences for the people of the region and their economies. In our earlier communications with the communities in Malawi it was evident the disease was having a devastating impact which, combined with poor harvests presented a dire outcome and a less than optimistic view for the country‘s future.
But whilst I was in Malawi last year it was already evident that vastly improved health outcomes are now a reality due to the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs provided free by the government. If the drug is taken in conjunction with a nutritional diet then the HIV/ AIDS sufferer in all likelihood in many cases will look forward to the equivalent of an almost normal life. The pall over Malawi had lifted together with improved agricultural outcomes which meant for the first time in decades a surplus maize crop was available for export.
The history as to how this all came about has been very slow but also encouraging.
The effective yet very expensive antiretroviral drugs were available to richer countries in 1996. The developing countries were to wait for many years later when finally in 1999, after a good deal of buttressing; a license was finally approved to produce an inexpensive generic version in South Africa. Subsequently four leading drug companies offered cheap drugs to the developing countries. Significant funding was provided in 2001 by the creation of the Global Fund to fight AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria. Click here to visit their website.
The United States which was the then funds largest contributor set up additionally the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief which authorized $48 billion dollars in 2008 spread over 5 years, with Ireland contributing a further $25 billion in the same year. ‘Developments in the fight against AIDS’ Editorial – Africa – St Patrick’s Missions –Ireland February 2010
Whilst in Africa I listened to many people’s stories, including that of a grandmother, whose experience was typical of many in their community in terms of church, faith and children. It wasn’t until later that I learned that her husband had died the previous year from HIV/AIDS. She was also infected and acknowledged her past sorrow, but lived a joyful existence. She had let go of her physical suffering and, by focusing on the spiritual, transcended her past sorrow for present joy. While we have great concern for her and the many others, including orphans, who carry a heavy burden through no fault of their own, their joyful spirits, unimpeded by the severe material hardships they endure, remain a true testament to their faith.
The full article I wrote about The Warm Heart of Africa is to be published in the April edition of 'Africa' by St Patrick's Missionary Society with a number of photos addtional to that which was featured earlier in the catholic newspaper Kairos, click here. should it be of interest.
Meanwhile on a global scale efforts continue: Gaborone/Geneva, 18 February 2010 –‘United Nations AIDS’ is calling for an international effort to renew commitment for countries to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Countries are urged to undertake an open and inclusive consultation process—bringing together governments, development partners, civil society organizations, networks of people living with HIV and community groups to review the progress made in reaching country targets for universal access. UNAIDS will support countries and regional bodies in convening these reviews.
The call to action was made by UNAIDS Executive Director Mr. Michel Sidibé while on an official visit to Botswana.
But the global downturn is affecting the flow of funds into the global AIDS programs which may lead to a decline in many countries.
It is crucial that the governments, churches and voluntary organizations redouble their efforts to prevent new infections and to continue to facilitate treatment and care for those already suffering the effects of the disease.
"Hopeful Developments in the fight against AIDS" -Editorial – Africa – St Patrick’s Missions –Ireland February 2010