May 21, 2001
The heads of a number of African states recently held a conference with high-level representatives of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity to discuss the current state of health in Africa. The least that can be said is the situation is catastrophic.
According to the latest reports from the United Nations, 25.3 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa carry the AIDS virus. This represents 70% of the known cases in the world. In some countries, like Botswana, more than two-thirds of the adult population is infected with this sickness. In the year 2000 alone, 2.4 million Africans died from diseases linked to AIDS and 2.2 million others died for the same reason the year before. According to a study by the United Nations, an AIDS epidemic such as this can cut 25 years off the average life expectancy in the most affected countries.
AIDS, however, is not the only sickness ravaging the African continent. In 1999, there were two million newly reported cases of tuberculosis; two thirds of the victims were also carriers of the AIDS virus.
Africa also remains the principal victim of malaria, with 300 million people in the Sub-Saharan part of the country suffering its effects. The situation is the worst for the poorest parts of the population and for infants.
The leaders of these countries, who have often been more interested to use state funds to fill their bank accounts than to improve the living conditions of the population, undoubtedly have a part of the responsibility for the worsening state of health. But what can be said about the powerful countries of the world, like the US, Britain and France; or about the western pharmaceutical trusts? These world-leading governments stand by and watch as this disaster takes place. The pharmaceutical companies pay attention and develop products for the small minority of Africans wealthy enough to afford to pay the high prices of their medicine. But these companies ignore the plight of the majority who are poor, and off whom little profit can be made. Ignore, that is, when they weren't asking the courts to prevent governments from going ahead on their own to produce medicines at a much cheaper cost.