The tragedy of AIDS in Africa

Plague: The problem demands heightened international action, not reliance on unproven methods.

May 01, 2000

THE SCOURGE of AIDS in Africa has achieved heartbreaking proportions.

"By the end of this year, 10.4 million children under 15 will have lost their mothers or both parents to AIDS," Newsweek reported recently.

By the end of the decade, it is estimated that more people in sub-Saharan Africa will die of AIDS than died in all of the 20th century's wars.

Given the high cost of life-extending drugs that are used to treat AIDS patients, it's understandable that Thabo Mbeki, president of hard-hit South Africa, is looking for help.

What is mystifying-- and also dangerous -- is where he's looking: to the ignorant and the charlatans who argue -- in the face of all the scientific evidence to the contrary -- that the HIV virus is not the cause of AIDS. He also, for a time, devoted critical government resources to the promotion of an unproven locally produced remedy.

Despite such time-wasting flirtations with bogus medicine, others are starting to recognize the implications of the AIDS crisis in Africa, not just for the countries involved, but for the world -- and to respond appropriately. In fact, the crisis is increasingly being discussed as a security issue.

cmhere Better-educated urban dwellers figure heavily among the victims, threatening--some have concluded -- the decimation of the economic, political, education and military elites of these impoverished countries.

The United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are working to address the crisis with funds for prevention programs and medical and humanitarian aid. The Clinton administration has also promised more U.S. dollars to combat AIDS in Africa.

Yet in Africa, as elsewhere, "The first battle to be won in the war against AIDS is the battle to smash the wall of silence and stigma surrounding it," in the words of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Mr. Mbeki would play a far more useful role if he joined with other world leaders in that battle.

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