Thursday, March 03, 2005

More on AIDS in Africa

One question that I've been asked about work of the Kenya team of which I was a part is what exactly the situation is regarding AIDS in Africa. To put it in a nutshell, according to many reports, the situation is disastrous. Many parts of Africa have few social restraints on promiscuous sex, so the transmission of AIDS and other STDs is rampant. Heterosexual sex is now the primary vehicle for transmitting AIDS in Africa, though many people are ignorant of this. In fact, superstitions promote the transfer, for some people believe that a man with AIDS must have sex with a virgin in order to get healthy. The huge death rate from AIDS has resulted in whole villages being depopulated and millions of AIDS orphans being left behind.

The needs of Africa are two-fold, namely to deal with the social collapse that has already been triggered by the AIDS in Africa and to minimize its future impact. One organization that is doing great work in Africa to repair the collapse is World Vision, and I am sure there are many others. Medically, one of the strategies is simply to prolong the lives of parents with AIDS until their children can care for themselves. This is one benefit of the kind of AIDS patient care that Kijabe hospital provides, and one of the reasons the reporting system we installed is so important. With it, the effectiveness of the AIDS medication can be tracked, and the methods can be identified which will be most effective in prolonging the lives of people and so preserving the integrity of their communities.

To minimize the future impact of AIDS, it is necessary to reduce the number of infections. Condoms are the popular strategy for doing this, but they are of dubious effectiveness in this struggle. As reported here, Uganda has found that abstinence works far better in reducing the incidence of AIDS (and other STDs as well), and offers much hope for those willing to pursue it. However one group will not benefit from this, and that is the children of pregnant women who are already infected with AIDS. Again, medical treatment offers hope here, for it is possible to use HIV medications to reduce the likelihood of the transmission of the disease from mother to child, and so allow the next generation to make a clean start in its battle against AIDS.

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