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Policy Makers Discuss Threat of HIV/AIDS to Africa's Future

Aired December 15, 2001 - 12:30:00   ET


TUMI MAKGABO, CNN ANCHOR: On this edition of INSIDE AFRICA: mapping out a strategy amid the staggering statistics, African policy makers discuss the threat posed by HIV/AIDS to the continent's future.

Combating the epidemic at the grassroots, we'll review a program to make anti-retroviral drugs more accessible in Botswana.

Women in Uganda provide refuge for thousands of children orphaned by AIDS and spreading the safe sex message by taking it to the youths.

Hello and welcome to INSIDE AFRICA. Time now for our weekly look at news and life on the continent.

Some call it the greatest threat to Africa's future. Experts say HIV/AIDS is ravishing the continent. In many countries south of the Sahara, it is the biggest killer. So, on this edition of our program, we review efforts by governments and community organizations to meet the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS.

We begin in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, at a meeting earlier in the week aimed at mapping out a strategy. INSIDE AFRICA's Jeff Koinange was there.


JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): AIDS advocates and policy makers met in this tiny desert town, the latest backdrop in the fight against Africa's biggest killer.

From the beginning, it was clear this was a different kind of conference. For one, the language was as blunt as it was humorous.

JERRY RAWLINGS, FORMER GHANAIAN PRESIDENT: What we're more interested in is our immediate sexual gratification, and if there's pregnancy, yes, let's face it. Mr. President, I'm sorry you invited me; I have to say it.

KOINANGE: Despite the good cheer, certain sobering facts mean Africa still faces one of the most devastating health crises in global history.

DR. PETER PIOT, DIRECTOR, UN-AIDS: If business as usual continues, I know what will happen. Tens of millions of orphans, street kids; tens of millions of people will have died in Africa. Whole societies destabilized. The economy is going down because of AIDS.

KOINANGE: The numbers, though well known, are staggering. Of the 40 million people infected with AIDS around the world, 28 million live in sub- Sahara, Africa. One in three Africans is infected; 500 more are infected each day. This year, 2.3 million people die here from AIDS-related illnesses -- 70 percent of such deaths worldwide.

The obstacles to a solution are staggering as well. Many victims have no medical care. Despite several pacts between African countries and drug companies to lower prices, the cost of treatment and medicine puts them out of reach for most victims.

(on camera): Take, for instance, this outpatient clinic, here, in the capital city, one of many that have sprung up in the last year alone. Of the 150 patients that walk through these gates on a daily basis, 70 percent -- nearly three quarters -- will test positive for the virus that causes AIDS.

(voice-over): And then, there's the social stigma, which prevents discussion and confuses treatment. Twenty-seven-year-old Ahoud Rago (ph) says he didn't think AIDS existed and felt that the persistent lethargy he experienced was due to a recurring bout of malaria. Now he admits he has AIDS, but he's afraid to tell loved ones, let alone to show his face to the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My family would disown me if they find out I have this disease. I'm ashamed not because I have it, but because of what I've become. I don't know how long I have to live, and I know I'm paying for something I did wrong.

KOINANGE: He's not alone. Twenty-five-year-old Josene (ph), whose parents both died of AIDS, says she can't bring herself to tell her own sister that she has AIDS.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I depend on my sister for everything. If she found out I have this disease, I'll be thrown out of the house, and I'll be homeless. I wish I could just die quickly rather than a slow, painful death.

KOINANGE: But this conference started to see hope. France committed 150 million euros to the cause. Though French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner urged African nations to be more vocal in demanding treatment.

BERNARD KOUCHNER, FRENCH HEALTH MINISTER (through translator): It's up to Africa to demand treatments from the rest of the world. If you don't do it, then no one will fight for you.

KOINANGE: And outside experts say Africa is starting to at least confront the crisis head on.

PIOT: It's that Africa, as the rest of the world, has wasted a lot of time by not acting against AIDS in time. However, it's never too late. And what I see today is that there is not a single country in this continent where the top leadership, head of state, is not taking on AIDS as a matter of national security, of survival.

PROF. SOULEYMANE MBOUP, AFRICAN AIDS RESEARCH NETWORK: I'm very hopeful that if we really put effort all together, we'll find all the means like a good vaccine, maybe within 10 years.

KOINANGE: Conference-goers are hopeful that AIDS can lead Africans to finally take their collective destiny in their hands, a process that might lead to demands for broader self-determination.

DR. VINH-KIM NGUYEN: I think it's been a revolution, not only in terms of dealing with the disease, but in the way in which people have politicized health in Africa and through it, are actually politicizing governments and their place in the world order.

DR. SYLVIA ANIE, GHANA AIDS COMMISSION: There's hope for the communities. They work at the grass-roots level. They have their ways of reaching out to the people, and I think if we can get the communities geared up, that's how we're going to solve the problem.

KOINANGE (on camera): One of the messages successful in getting to where it's desperately needed is key to first slowing down and then eventually stopping the spread of a pandemic that threatens to wipe out up to a third of the continent's 600 million people by the end of this decade.

In Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, I'm Jeff Koinange for INSIDE AFRICA.


MAKGABO: AIDS advocates and experts left Burkina Faso, hoping that somehow, this conference will make a difference. The primary concern of many conference-goers: The high cost of anti-retroviral drugs. They appealed to the international community to help cut the cost of these drugs.

But even before the Ouagadougou gathering, Botswana was already making plans to make much-needed medication more accessible to AIDS patients.

Details now from CNN's medical correspondent Christy Feig.


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): HIV has infected as many as one in three of those living in Botswana, and like most countries in Africa, only a fraction can afford the medicines that in the West have prevented HIV from becoming a death sentence. Now, that is set to change.

As the New Year dawns, the government will launch a program to provide those powerful drugs to the people who need them. It's the first such program in Africa.

FESTUS MOGAE, BOTSWANIAN PRESIDENT: We are hoping that over the five- year period, we should see a declining curve in the number of infections or in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're gaining weight?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many kilograms have you gained?

FEIG: Sinah Kgwaraga almost died earlier this year. Now, she is part of a preliminary program to guarantee that infrastructure for the wider program is in place.

KGWARAGA: I can encourage people to take them because these drugs have brought back in my life.

FEIG: The government wants to do more than deliver life-saving drugs, but it doesn't have the money to get ahead of the problem.

So it's created partnerships with institutions like Harvard University to prevent infections in other groups. The Botswana-Harvard partnership is using medicine and formula in the villages to reduce the number of infections passed from mother to child.

DR. LISA STOCKING, BOTSWANA-HARVARD PARTNERSHIP: We're expecting we should cut the rate down by about 50 percent. The original stats in Botswana show a 40 percent transmission rate from mother to baby with breast-feeding, so we're expecting to save quite a few lives.

FEIG: Mouliboho Mongwongketse (ph) was pregnant when she found out she was HIV positive.


FEIG: Through the program, she's using formula instead of breast milk. But that works against the culture of breast-feeding, so doctors have to convince the communities formula feeding is acceptable.

STOCKING: Introducing formula has been a huge problem. I think we're making headway in that.

FEIG: Botswana's small population has helped to confront the problem head on, but trouble in its diamond-fed economy threatens its ability to pay for the medicines.

MOGAE: After the terror attacks, there has been a steep decline in the sale of diamonds in the United States.

FEIG: And that will affect how many with AIDS the government yield can help.

(on camera): Providing the medicines alone won't solve all the problems; there are still cultural issues and a strong stigma against HIV. But the government hopes making treatment for HIV available will help knock down some of those other walls.

Christies Feig, CNN, Gabarone, Botswana.


MAKGABO: Time now to take a break. And then we'll show you how the women of Uganda are contributing to the fight against AIDS. Stay with us.


MAKGABO: And welcome back to South Africa now, where AIDS activists are celebrating.

A High Court judge ruled Friday that the government must provide the anti-retroviral drug nevirapine to all HIV-positive pregnant women. Activists say the ruling could save the lives of nearly 50,000 babies in the coming year. The South African government questions the drug's safety and says it does not plan to immediately comply with the judge's decision.

Before Friday's ruling, the drug had been offered on a 2-year trial basis by at least 18 centers around the country, but critics say the process was slow.

South Africa is one of the countries hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic. The government says at least one in 10 people is HIV positive. Now a group of South Africans and U.S. activists are working to halt the spread of the disease among young people.

That story from our Charlayne Hunter-Gault.


CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wait a minute, this is South Africa, where soccer is the national passion and pastime -- but this sure isn't soccer and yet, it sure is a passion here. What's the American passion doing here in South Africa?

MYKE SCHOLL, DIRECTOR, BASKETBALL PROGRAM: Basketball lends itself as a team game. It lends itself to building confidence and self-esteem in young people at a relatively quick pace. And this is just an activity to interest them and get them involved so they start seeing themselves in the future, and they start seeing their futures as positive. And therefore, they'll change their responsibility and act responsibly in sex and in life.

HUNTER-GAULT: And it seems to be working here. Well, they may not be making a lot of baskets, but they do have new goals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to race a car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I'll have sex, I'm going to use condom.

HUNTER-GAULT: And their parents are the biggest fans -- both of the game and of the goals.

LYDIA FIHLA, PARENT: They teach them many things like to abstain from sex, everything. They teach them about HIV, all those things. And it's good. It's very good because, we parents -- sometimes we are scared, or we don't like to talk to our kids.

HUNTER-GAULT: This is one of 123 such projects around the country, sponsored by Love Life, a highly acclaimed project of the U.S.-based Kaizer Family Foundation. It is aimed at young people between the ages of 12 and 17. Almost 2,500 youngsters are involved nationwide; a small fraction of the total, but a start.

MICHAEL FINLEY, PROJECT CREATOR: We do promote condom usage, but our main message is to encourage a positive lifestyle. And what we call it -- the term is positive sexuality.

HUNTER-GAULT: Americans may have gotten this American concept off the ground, but it's South Africans who are making it work -- like the disc jockey for this Parents' Day, a former self-confessed street thug now heading the city's motivational program.

LEFA NTOELE, DISC JOCKEY: If you have potential and you're willing to release that potential and give meaning to your life -- give meaning to your life and use your potential and pray to God to give you the ability not to miss the opportunities.

HUNTER-GAULT: Without this center, many of these young people from the surrounding impoverished township wouldn't have any other recreation or stimulation. The combination of their idleness and their poverty, a powerful pull towards what the Love Life program calls negative behavior.

Instead, they have the program. Most, but not all, have donated tennis shoes. And people like this one-time American college basketball player, also from humble origin. He became a lawyer representing professional basketball players, then...

SCHOLL: Always believed in the premise of the stewardship of wealth, which means that as we are able to succeed and achieve by our own personal hard work, we have a moral responsibility and obligation to give back to those communities in which we really came from ourselves.

HUNTER-GAULT: Such enthusiasm infectious, especially for today's winning coach and her players.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I learning big-time; I'm learning.

HUNTER-GAULT (on camera): Some 40 percent of South Africa's population is under 15. If young people like these can be saved, there is hope for the future of the nation -- Tumi.


MAKGABO: Thanks Charlayne.

And you can visit our Web site to read more about this program. Just go to And while you're there, remember to take part in our quick vote and post your thoughts on our message board.

Now to Femi Oke, who joins us with the story of how Ugandan women are helping the thousands of children who've lost their parents to AIDS -- Femi.

FEMI OKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks Tumi. It was possible to do an encouraging and positive report about the AIDS issue in Uganda, this would most definitely be it.


(voice-over): Orphaned by AIDS, but not without hope, these children are benefiting from the actions of a nongovernmental organization: The Ugandan Women's Effort to Save Orphans, or UWESO. It was formed nearly 20 years ago to help children who lost their parents during Uganda's civil war. Now it helps AIDS orphans.

UWESO's focus has also shifted from relief to development, with support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Belgian Survival Fund.

MONICA MUKOZA, BRANCH COORDINATOR UWESO: You come and meet with the women. Your first meeting, they are so miserable. They feel they cannot solve their own problems. You come and they think they can -- they'll have to get someone to always come and get them food, someone to come and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for their children.

OKE: UWESO teaches women business skills and helps them start savings and credit schemes. Seventy-year-old Mala Bennedett (ph) is one of many women who's benefited from the project. With her 11 children all dead from AIDS, Bennedett now helps raise 35 children. She's received four loans from UWESO since 1996.

With the skills acquired from the group, she started a small business, producing a banana paste. Bennedett trades the paste for fish, which she then sells in her village. Her earnings allow her to provide food, clothing, medical treatment and school fees to the children in her care.

MUKOZA: After getting the training, and they start working on their own, it really feels good to see them changing both in what they are doing and in their attitude. They now believe they have to work hard and help their own children.

OKE: In Uganda, 2 million children have been orphaned by AIDS. And programs like UWESO are helping to restore hope and give these young people a reason to smile.


OKE: I have one last footnote about that report, and that was the video. It wasn't shot by a CNN cameraperson. In fact, the video -- which is coming up now hopefully -- was actually shot by an Iranian director, Abbas Kiarostami. And it was released earlier this year and shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

And as Abbas might have said himself: That's a wrap.

Here's Tumi.

MAKGABO: Femi, thank you very much. And still ahead on INSIDE AFRICA: taking a safe sex message to the classroom. We'll tell you how Kenyan students are learning to protect themselves against AIDS.


MAKGABO: Hello once again.

Some experts argue that sex education is the most potent pull -- tool, rather, in the battle against AIDS. They say teaching young people to be sexually responsible could go a long way in preventing infection. Some school authorities across Africa seem to agree. They've begun to introduce sex education into their curriculums.

Zain Verjee tells us about one such school in Kenya.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Students streaming into the dining hall at Sunshine Secondary Boarding School in Nairobi for a session with the visiting lecturer. The topic: Sex; a rather unusual subject to discuss with children in this largely conservative society.

But the impact of the AIDS epidemic is forcing a change in the social dictum here. The United Nations estimates that about 500 Kenyans die of AIDS each day; 80 percent are between the ages of 15 and 49. So President Daniel Arap Moi has urged sex education in schools.

Sunshine is one of several institutions that have heeded the president's call, making sex education a part of the curriculum.

MAGDALENE SANG, PRINCIPAL: What we are just trying to do at the moment is just try to demystify, and tell them that it is OK to discuss about sex, and this is the way we should go.

VERJEE: On this day, the students hear from a U.S. abstinence advocate, Pam Stenzel. She minces no words in trying to get her message across.

PAM STENZEL, ABSTINENCE EDUCATOR: Absolutely no genital contact. Do you all know what the genital is? That would include your hand to the genital, your mouth to the genital. Are you with me? OK. Now, kissing a little nice kiss, you know. Fine. Holding hands, we're all fine. But if there's genital contact...

VERJEE: And somehow, this approach seems to work with these students, capturing their attentions and getting some of them involved in the discussion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, let's say that somebody touches his genitals and then maybe greets you. Can you get infected like that?

STENZEL: (OFF-MIKE) it takes a little -- you would -- sexually transmitted diseases are called sexually transmitted because it takes a lot of close contact to get it.

VERJEE: Some argue that preaching abstinence is not the best approach to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. They contend that it doesn't adequately address the issue of peer pressure. The alternative, they say, is teaching safe sex.

But this abstinence education expert says reaching one child at a time could ensure a better future for Africa's children.

STENZEL: I know that if it makes a difference for one or two or three -- and they will do what I've told them to do, because I can't choose for them, that it will change their lives; it will save their lives. And so that keeps me going, because I know that these students are capable of making good choices, they just need to be given right information.

VERJEE: And on this day, in this hall, she has at least one convert.

LAWRENCE HUEFA: What she told me is what I'm going to use in my future life. Like my girlfriend -- I think we now know what we have to do so as to be, maybe kind of Christian (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I think the life that you're going to live. Maybe God has set apart my life with her.

VERJEE: Authorities at Sunshine Boarding School hope their sex education program will help the students become more sexually responsible, and somehow stem the spread of HIV/AIDS among Kenya's younger generation.



MAKGABO: Now before we go, let's take a quick look at some of the other stories making news inside Africa.

Somali Prime Minister Hassan Abshir Farah says that there are no followers of Osama bin Laden in his country. On Wednesday, a warlord opposed to the interim government alleged that more than 50 armed al Qaeda fighters had entered the country. But the prime minister dismissed the allegation, saying his government will never permit that. He made the statement upon arrival in Nairobi for peace talks with factions opposed to the year-old interim government.

In Zambia, a multinational team of election observers arrived to monitor general elections set for December 27. There are 11 candidates vying to replace President Fredrick Chiluba. Already political parties and local monitoring groups are expressing concern over the election date. It is at the height of the rainy season, and the fear is that the heavy rains may prevent people from showing up at the polling stations.

United Nations officials in Sierra Leone say rebels in the diamond- rich districts of Tongo and Kailahun have begun to turn in their weapons. The officials say nearly 500 ex-fighters of the Revolutionary United Front, or RUF, have handed in their weapons in the area. They were among the last of the RUF soldiers to surrender their weapons. All sides in the civil war agreed to a peace deal back in May. Since then, nearly 40,000 rebels have been disarmed. Elections are scheduled in the country for next year.

Well, as always, INSIDE AFRICA loves to hear from you. So if you have a comment about the program or know of an event that we should be sure to add to our calendar, why not e-mail us at Your comments may be used on a future broadcast. Also, we're looking for recipes for our Web site, so be sure to send those along. E-mail your favorite recipes to"

And that's all for this week's show. Thanks for joining us. Hope you'll do so again next week. I'm Tumi Makgabo.





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