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Committee Examines HIV/AIDS Crisis in Africa

On September 27, the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa held a hearing to examine the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. In an effort to address the epidemic, last month Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 106-264) that includes $150 million for an HIV/AIDS trust fund under the auspices of the World Bank in FY2001 and FY2002 (see The Source, 7/31/00, p. 1).

Vivian Lowery Derryck of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) detailed the scope of the epidemic. “In 1999, AIDS was the largest killer, accounting for 2.2 million deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, more than double the 1 million deaths from malaria. By 2005, the daily death toll will reach 13,000 people with nearly 5 million AIDS deaths in that year alone.”

Ms. Derryck highlighted effective prevention strategies that have been undertaken by USAID, including the use of information and education to encourage behavior change; condom social marketing; confidential voluntary counseling and testing programs; prevention of mother-to-child transmission; and the provision of support to orphans and vulnerable children.

Saying that the problem of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) is “becoming increasingly urgent,” Ms. Derryck added, “MTCT is estimated to be the cause of about 10 percent of all new HIV infections and nearly 100 percent of all cases of pediatric HIV….Mother-to-child infections are likely to increase because of the growing epidemic among women. About 55 percent of all new infections in Africa occur among women. Of these, 70 percent are between the ages of 15 and 24 years.” She added that “carefully implemented MTCT programs have the potential not only to save the lives of infants, but also to serve as a catalyst for improving and expanding HIV prevention and care services. MTCT programs highlight the need for expanded voluntary counseling and testing, for high-quality prevention programs for women who test negative for HIV, and for expanded programs to care for those infected with HIV.”

Dr. Peter Lamptey of Family Health International also discussed his organization’s HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in Africa, which focus on preventing HIV transmission through blood transfusions and intravenous drug use, reducing the sexual risk of infection, and preventing mother-to-child transmission. “The interventions that have the most impact in reducing sexual risk are the following: community-based interventions especially for youth and women, work-based interventions, school-based interventions, and general population-based interventions through mass media and condom social marketing programs.” Saying that the programs had been quite successful, Dr. Lamptey cited the successes of Senegal, Uganda, Thailand, and the Bahamas. “Within a five-year period, condom use in Uganda increased about 4 fold among men and about 7 fold among women,” he said.

Sanford Ungar of the Voice of America (VOA) detailed the agency’s effort to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “Clearly, accurate and candid information about HIV/AIDS is crucial to winning this struggle across the African continent. We have taken a special interest in this issue at Voice of America, given that an estimated 40 percent of our listeners now live in Africa,” he said, adding: “VOA broadcasts into African homes in eleven languages everyday. Over the past fifteen years, we have made stories about HIV/AIDS a broadcasting priority, and our features on the topic have tried to help some 36 million listeners in Africa make informed choices about dealing with the disease.”

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