For many in the developed world, the HIV/AIDS crisis has receded as an active concern. The spotlight of international attention has shifted away from the devastating effects of the epidemic on Africa to other crises. There is also a sense that the situation is somehow under control, given the increasing availability of funds to combat HIV/AIDS and wider access to antiretroviral drugs.
That is certainly not the case. HIV/AIDS remains a huge problem in Africa. The crisis persists, deepens and resists easy solutions. The disease is not only a serious obstacle to development efforts but is shifting the horizons of development. The epidemic has decimated an entire generation of young adults; born after independence, they represented the hopes, savings and investments of their peoples. It leaves communities and societies struggling to survive. If they are left without support, the Millennium Development Goals will only be idle talk, and strategies to reduce poverty will be equally empty frameworks.
Epidemics are not only about how people die, but are also about how people live. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, HIV/AIDS has caused 17 million deaths. More than 25 million people are living with the disease, powerless to keep their families from sinking deeper into poverty. In 2001, about 11 million orphaned by the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa struggled to grow to adulthood.
The rapid spread and persistence of the disease mirrors the social conditions that make Africa's poor vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Economic- and gender-related factors increase the probability of behaviour that puts people at risk of contracting the HIV virus. Lack of access to education and communication means that people cannot gain an understanding of HIV/AIDS and the dangers it poses. A low level of public services leaves families and communities without support in confronting the crisis.
Poor people in rural areas, particularly women, are the largest and weakest segment of Africa's population. They have fewer economic opportunities and limited access to education, information and public services such as health care. As a result, these people are the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS and their families and communities become even poorer and more vulnerable. They exhaust their already meagre resources in caring for the sick and are permanently weakened by the loss of their most active family members.
The HIV/AIDS crisis is so severe in Africa because it exploits the weak points in society...