Africa suffers the scourge of the virus

This life and pain of Kgomotso Mahlangu, a five-month-old AIDS patient (above) in a hospital in the Kalafong township near Pretoria, South Africa, on October 26, 1999, brings a certain, frightening reality to the sweeping and devastating destruction of human beings who form the core of any definition of a country's future, its national security, actual and potential economic development and internal markets.

The ravaging of human lives of all ages and gender and color says a lot about what was, once wrongly, thought of as the disease suffered "only" by some persons, specifically homosexuals. Inside Africa, and many developing countries the impact of the AIDS virus has been nothing less than an epidemic, a disaster of catastrophic proportions. Innocent and hapless persons such as Kgomotso's apparent helplessnes yearn for the efforts of all to save the lives of other kids who are suffering without any spotlight or the focus of kleig lights.

I have looked at that distant stare in Kgomotso's eyes into an uncertain future as also reflecting, painfully, an apt prologue to the challenge imposed on our shared and basic humanity. There are millions of other Kgomotsos across the African continent, in various African-American neighborhoods and among the very rich even in the United States. The task must be, essentially, to restore healthy existence and seek solutions to the AIDS virus in order to save millions of children and adults. In noting that there are millions who suffer due accidental infection and other forms of transfer of the virus, I do not minimize or overlook the fact that are patterns of behavior which make it more likely to be infected by the AIDS virus.Regardless, I believe the world can do better in terms of education about how the virus can be acquired, and other such vital sociological issues which enable the execution of solutions. We will all be acting in our collective and best interests. AIDS has become, according to United Nations and other health agencies, the leading cause of death in the continent.

"The impact that Aids is already having on sub-Saharan Africa is catastrophic, and the scenario will worsen unless global leaders work together to invest more - much more - prevention efforts and programs to address the multitude of social and economic problems that AIDS has brought," UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot argued at an international conference in Lusaka, Zambia, on Monday September 13, 1999. "The impact is all too comprehensible ... the protracted sickness, the fractured families, the weakening workforce, the relentless ritual of funerals, and the morgues that no longer even bother to close," Madavo added. Since 1984, AIDS reportedly has caused the deaths of 11 million Africans. The conferees said that almost 22.5 million people are infected with HIV or ill with Aids. Hence, Madavo underlined the fact that "the damage that Aids has done in the present is incalculable. Now it threatens millions of the future.... AIDS now poses the foremost threat to development in Africa."

It is in recognition of the dangers of the AIDS virus and its catastrophic impact on our continents and peoples that influenced us, for almost 7 years ago, since I established USAfrica magazine, USAfrica The Newspaper, USAfricaonline.com, later The Black Business Journal, BBJonline.com and more recently NigeriaCentral.com to publish occasional special reports on the issue. The past 3 years have seen an increase in such focus. We can do more, and better. We look forward to cooperation and support from persons and individuals who can be a part of our agenda to strive for solutions to save the likes of the innocent five-month-old, Kgomotso Mahlangu.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who hails from Ghana in west Africa, accurately notes that "The breakdown of health and education services, the obstruction of humanitarian assistance, the displacement of whole populations and a high infection rate among soldiers -- as in other groups which move back and forth across the continent: all these ensure that the epidemic spreads ever further and faster."

Accordingly, USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica The Newspaper (as the primary media networks for Africans and Americans) will increase its allocation of space and frequency of our series of articles and features on the education and solutions to deal with the AIDS virus.

I agree entirely with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke that the U.N Security Council should consider the impact and toll of AIDS on Africa, and from that context "begin to redefine security as broader in the post-Cold War era than it used to be."

Another leader who addressed the U.N on January 10, 2000, on the issue of AIDS is the U.S vice president Al Gore who warned that "AIDS is going to kill more people in the first decade of this century than all the soldiers who were killed of all the wars of the 20th century." He has made a case for more support to deal with the crises in Africa. It is important to note that the African continent has only 5.1 percent of the world's population.

It is startling that while Africans are facing the most serious threat to our collective existence, some African leaders look, largely, to exotic issues and pursue huge projects which widen their opportunities to misappropriate scarce resources and privatize public funds. When was the last time you read that any African leader devoted his money to a scientific research foundation? The amounts spent for partisan and ethnic power struggle is atrocious, and disconnects from the existential needs of the majority of the people. For example, the monies which exchanged hands among partisans during the 1998-99 presidential elections in Nigeria (which brought retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo to power) is enough to create a wall of AIDS awareness campaign to the most remote village in Guguletu and Kiama, or any other parts of Africa. Also, the cost of Muammar Ghaddafi's 'jammahiriya' shows and Fidel Castro's parades could go a long way in fighting the virus in their countries (and for their neighbors). Let's look at these terrifying data: 23.3 million Africans, according to the United Nations, are infected with HIV or AIDS. This reflects 70 percent of the world's total AIDS patients. Also, 11 million African orphans have been become an unfortunate reality due to AIDS epidemic (reflecting 90 percent of Africa's total of orphans).

Remarkably, like the proverbial individual whose house is on fire who chose to pursue rats instead of saving the house, none of nearly one dozen African heads of states and government who were invited to attend the September, 1999, health conference showed up. More telling, host president President Frederick Chiluba sent Vice-President Christone Tembo to read his speech. Apparently, AIDS does not have the lure for the African leaders to junket and shop during other more wasteful excuses they find. It seems, essentially, another example where African leaders dangerously and irresponsibly misplace the continent's priorities.

"Too much of Africa will enter the 21st century watching the gains of the 20th evaporate," Callisto Madavo, the vice president of the World Bank African region has warned the world at an international conference in Lusaka, Zambia. With such realistic but chilling representation of the scourge and economic, social and human cost of AIDS in Africa, the question as we indulge in assorted millennial parties and high-,minded agenda in the New Year, the citizens of the future will wonder and ask why the likes of Kgomotso Mahlangu had to live a life vacant imagination. The pandemic could wipe out all the gains of the past century. To be sure, it can, if we let it. Should we? And, what can you do for the helpless millions and unknown Kgomotsos of this world? What's your part and response to the point that 60 percent of the 16.3 million lives lost to AIDS since the epidemic began, are Africans?

I believe we can do better. We'll all stay blessed by sharing our blessings.


Nwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence Award, HABJ 1997, is Founder and Publisher of USAfrica The Newspaper, USAfricaonline.com (first African-owned U.S.-based professional newspaper to be published on the internet), The Black Business Journal , BBJonline.com, and NigeriaCentral.com. He traveled with and covered U.S. President Clinton's visit to parts of Africa March-April 2, 1998, and currently serves on Houston Mayor Lee Brown's international business advisory board (Africa).

 According to the United Nations, AIDS in Africa has left the following painful facts:
• 23.3 million Africans infected with HIV or AIDS; 70 percent of the world's total

• 11 million African orphans created by AIDS epidemic; 90 percent of Africa's total of orphans

 • In 1998, 200,000 Africans died from wars; 2.2 million died of AIDS

 • Life expectancy in Africa, which had reached 59, will drop to 45 between 2005 and 2010 because of AIDS.
(Special to USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica The Newspaper)