HIV and Aids threat to Sadc development
Lovemore Chikova News Editor
AS leaders from the region gather for the 34th Sadc Summit in Victoria Falls next month, they must seriously reflect on the devastating effect of the HIV and Aids pandemic that is threatening to decimate entire populations.
In fact, whatever deliberations the leaders are going to embark on and resolutions they are going to make, the Sadc leaders must know that the results of their efforts on regional integration and development can easily be eroded by HIV and Aids.
It is clear that one of the greatest challenges facing Southern Africa is HIV and Aids, which has affected almost every facet of the society and the Sadc member states.
Even efforts to move towards greater integration can be adversely affected by the pandemic, thereby scuttling efforts being made on social, political and economic development.
Most countries in the region are already grappling with the severe impact of HIV and Aids and related diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer, which are threatening to reverse the hard won developmental gains of the past few years.
While the Sadc leaders will be addressing other issues at the Victoria Falls summit, they must pause and seriously look at factors that contribute to the spread of HIV and how they mitigate against them.
Halting the spread of HIV will result in the region making progress as financial and human resources, which are directed towards fighting the pandemic, will be allocated elsewhere for developmental projects.
What this means is that the Sadc leaders should, at the Victoria Falls summit, focus on what can be done to fight the factors which contribute to the spread of HIV.
One of the major factors listed as contributing to the spread of HIV in Southern Africa is poverty that is haunting almost all communities. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki once highlighted at an international HIV and Aids conference in Durban in 2000 that the biggest threat to Africa was not the Aids pandemic, but the extreme levels of poverty.
“The world’s biggest killer and the greatest cause of ill health and suffering across the globe, including South Africa, is extreme poverty,” he said.
His speech did not go down well with some HIV and Aids activists who thought President Mbeki had not done justice to the infection responsible for the misery of both Africa and the world at large.
Yet President Mbeki was right because poverty breeds an environment that is conducive to the spreading of HIV, especially among Southern African communities. Poverty is causing high mobility and migrant labour between rural and urban areas, within countries and between member States.
Rural to urban migration has in most countries resulted in a situation where people run away from poverty in the rural areas in search of employment in towns, only to find themselves facing more severe poverty than what they experienced before because there are very few jobs.
These people will end up living in slums where they are more exposed to HIV because of overcrowding which leads them to engage in various activities like prostitution to earn a living.
Poverty is also responsible for the failure of millions to access simple drugs to relieve common opportunistic infections in the early stages of Aids.
There are other underlying issues such as illiteracy, multiple sexual partners, cultural activities and alcohol abuse which all can easily contribute to the spreading of HIV. At the Victoria Falls summit, Sadc leaders must reflect on why the HIV burden remains heavy in the region despite efforts being done to contain the pandemic.
The region remains accounting for more than 34 percent of the HIV infections, according to the UNAIDS 2010 Global Report. What is needed is for the Sadc leaders to work more with the SADC HIV and Aids Strategic Framework to implement interventions against the pandemic.
Leaders need to look at how they can promote condom distribution and use, behaviour change communication, HIV testing and counselling, safe medical circumcision, mainstreaming HIV and Aids across all sectors, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission and treatment and home-based care.
The region is grappling with a high number of orphans due to the HIV pandemic, while households affected by the infection experience decreased or complete loss of income.
Other households have disintegration as a result of the pandemic, resulting in the demise of the family fabric which is crucial in enhancing development. Almost every facet has been affected by HIV in all the countries in the Sadc region, such that ignoring the pandemic will have devastating consequences. Industries are experiencing loss of productivity due to illness, absenteeism to care for sick family members and to attend funerals and loss of skilled and experienced workers.
Southern African countries depend mainly on agriculture which requires intense labour, but the sector is being threatened as HIV and Aids decimate the most active age groups.
The effects of HIV have a potential to result in the decline of yields which would affect food security at household levels.
Instead of directing financial resources to other more important areas of development, countries will be forced to use the same resources for social safety nets to cater for the vulnerable.
The first HIV cases were reported in the region in the mid-1980s, but its nature and severity as time went on calls for a deliberate response at both national and regional levels.
What is important is that political commitment to address HIV and Aids is very high and most Sadc States have developed national policies on the pandemic.
Zimbabwe has actually gone a step further to establish a National Aids Council which is funded by a three percent levy on all workers.
NAC is now responsible for HIV response programmes and ensuring that medicines such as ARVs are available.
The council also caters for orphans due to HIV by paying for school fees through the Basic Education Assistance Module.
The region is making some progress in the fight against the pandemic, what is needed is to intensify the efforts. The Sadc Secretariat has since established an HIV and Aids Unit meant to come up with measures and actions against the pandemic.
The region also responds to the pandemic through the Sadc Strategic Framework and Programme of Action and the Maseru Declaration on Combating HIV and Aids. The Sadc region also has several relevant protocols and declarations that if followed can effectively fight HIV and Aids.
These include the Sadc Health Protocol whose Article 9 addresses communicable disease control and Articles 10 up to 12 which specifically look at HIV and Aids, malaria and TB.
There is also the Sadc Declaration on HIV and Aids which recognises that a number of commitments have been made to fight the pandemic, but calls for further collaboration to ensure it is conquered.
The Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development mandates member States to address gender-specific health care needs related to HIV and Aids and calls for universal access to treatment.
What is now needed is for the Sadc leaders to develop comprehensive programmes of care, support and treatment, including addressing resource constraints such as a poor healthcare infrastructure and issues of stigma and discrimination.
Despite the efforts being done, it is clear that the HIV and Aids pandemic continues to impact negatively on the political, economic and social well-being of the region.
This means that as the Sadc leaders meet in Victoria Falls, they can not afford to ignore the devastating effects that the pandemic has had on the region.
They can not ignore that all members States need to be well equipped to fight the pandemic given the high levels of inter-country migration in the region.
Weaknesses in one country can easily erode progress being made in another because HIV can easily be carried across borders.