Thirty years on, Africa needs new Aids plan

A new battle plan for fighting HIV/Aids is needed in sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s hardest-hit region, where most people with the possible deadly syndrome are unaware of their condition, experts said on Tuesday.

If after 30 years of the pandemic “90% of people living with Aids do not know their status ... 70% of people who need treatment are not getting it, then there is something we are not doing right,” said Wasai Jacob Nanjakululu, an HIV/Aids expert for the British charity Oxfam.

Grassroots movements from 32 mostly African countries have gathered for an HIV/Aids conference in Nairobi, which opens on Wednesday, aimed at exploring radical new approaches to stopping the spread of the syndrome.

“We are far from winning the struggle against Aids,” said Leonard Okello, an ActionAid International expert in HIV/Aids.

He said the three-day Nairobi conference would take an honest look at the shortcomings of recent policies to combat the syndrome and seek new methods.

Millions of dollars—mostly Western-sourced—have been poured into anti-Aids campaigns, but experts say these are not being spent effectively.

“There are a lot of resources in HIV/Aids programmes but not much of that reaches the community. What is it that we should radically change?”, said Okello.

Miriam Were, the head of Kenya’s National Aids Control Council, said Africa was in denial for too long after the syndrome hit.

“We were too slow, even when we had evidence staring at us, we buried our heads in the sand,” she said.

In the face of increasing donor fatigue and other issues from the global financial crisis to climate change and emerging epidemics like swine flu, fears are that the HIV/Aids pandemic risks slipping off the international agenda.

“We need innovative health financing,” said Okello.

Prevalence rates have dropped in parts of Wast Africa to about 6% but some countries have failed to stem the tide.

For example, infection rates among pregnant women in Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa top 30%.

Branded buttocks
Meanwhile, Swazi residents were asked on Tuesday to debate a politician’s call for HIV-positive citizens to be branded on the buttocks, which has sparked an uproar in the small mountain kingdom.

The Times of Swaziland asked for feedback on best ways to combat HIV and rights to freedom of speech after Timothy Myeni told fellow politicians that all Swazis should be tested for HIV and their backsides marked if infected.

“I have a solution to this virus.
The solution will come from a law that will make it compulsory to test for HIV. Once you test positive, you should be branded on the buttocks,” the member of Parliament said last week.

“Before having sex with anyone, people will then check the buttocks of their partners before proceeding with their mission,” the newspaper reported him saying.

Landlocked Swaziland is one of the world’s poorest nations with the highest HIV prevalence in the world under the rule of Africa’s last absolute monarch King Mswati III.

Miyeni, who leads a popular gospel group, has stuck to his call for compulsory HIV testing but apologised for the buttocks branding suggestion.

“I am very sorry for saying HIV-positive people should be branded, I did not know it would turn out like this. I have seen that the suggestion was very offensive and many think I was discriminating, so I withdraw my statement,” he said last week.

Reader responses will be published in the Times of Swaziland next Tuesday, the newspaper said in its online edition. - AFP

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