AFRICA: World Bank helping to fight AIDS [19990710]

AFRICA: World Bank helping to fight AIDS [19990710]

AFRICA: World Bank helping to fight AIDS

ABIDJAN, 9 July 1999 (IRIN) - Africa, home to two-thirds of the people living with HIV/AIDS in the world, needs to take "drastic action" to check the alarming spread of the pandemic, World Bank specialists concerned by the phenomenon said on Friday.

"Africa is the epicenter in the world, Cote d'Ivoire the epicenter in West Africa," Hans Binswanger, director of rural and environmental development at the World Bank, said at a news conference in Abidjan.

Last year, 1.5 million Africans died of AIDS, among them doctors, engineers, researchers, farmers. They died because of the "unique concentration" of the HIV in Africa and because governments and their international partners have been slow to act, the World Bank says in a document `Intensifying Action Against HIV/AIDS in Africa: Responding to a development crisis.'

"Not since the bubonic plague of the European Middle Ages has there been so large a threat to hundreds of millions of people -- and the future of entire economies," the World Bank says.

Initially an urban phenomenon, AIDS has spread to the rural areas. Binswanger, himself sero-positive, gave the example of young rural Mauritanian men who have been going to the Democratic Republic of Congo, returning with HIV and marrying in their communities.

Some of the worst affected countries in West Africa are Cote d'Ivoire, which will have 0.5 million AIDS orphans by the year 2000, and Burkina Faso. In Southern Africa, the hardest hit include Malawi, where two or three teachers die each week, and Zimbabwe where 1.2 million children will be orphans in the next five years.

World Bank Director of External Relations for Africa Robert Calderisi said that life expectancy - which was the most explicit measure of the human impact of the disease - had dropped from 52 years to 35 years in Zimbabwe.

The extent of HIV infection in Nigeria, which has close to half of West Africa's people, is unknown because of the country's poor statistics.

The World Bank says it has crafted a strategic eight-million-dollar -a-year plan, initially for five years, to tackle HIV/AIDS head-on along with development partners and African governments. It has called on African leaders, civil society and the private sector to put HIV/AIDS at the centre of their agendas.

The bank says it can help by identifying African elders, former statesmen, writers, artists, musicians and athletes to visit the worst affected countries and dramatise the need for quick and sustained actions.

It says it recognises that it must help countries improve their economic and social circumstances as a way of slowing the epidemic. Bank-funded projects can also be redesigned to reach vulnerable people, support social assessment and impact studies and develop long-range planning by integrating information about HIV/AIDS in school and training curricula.

The bank will also support the treatment of sexually transmitted infections, condom distribution, care and support for projects employing workers vulnerable to the disease. In addition, the Bank says it must mobilise additional resources from the international community and collaborate better with UNAIDS and other UN agencies, international donors and the private sector.

"AIDS is no longer a problem of medication. It is a problem of development," Calderisi said.

There have been brave attempts to stem HIV infection, notable in Senegal and Uganda, Binswanger and the programme development officer for UNAIDS Intercountry Team for West and Central Africa, Octave Moumpala, said.

Uganda was able to record declining HIV-infection rates because it had been very open about the problem from the start, Moumpala told IRIN. "There was also a high-level involvement of political powers and NGOs who made movies on the disease," he said.


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Item: irin-english-1202

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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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