Recent Media Coverage of the HIV/AIDS Crisis in Africa


4-14-06, 7:56 am

(A statement by Africa Action: Thursday, April 13, 2006 (Washington, DC) - Africa Action today challenged The Washington Post for its recent coverage minimizing the severity of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. The organization emphasizes the real and ongoing urgency of the crisis on the continent, and strongly rejects attempts by The Washington Post to revive old debates questioning the value of HIV/AIDS treatment.

Two pieces in The Washington Post in the past week - an article entitled 'How AIDS in Africa was Overstated' (April 6) and an editorial on 'Assessing AIDS' (April 10) - have disputed the accuracy of UNAIDS’ estimates of HIV/AIDS infection rates in Africa. The pieces claim that the extent of the HIV/AIDS crisis in parts of Africa has been overestimated, and that the credibility of the United Nations on this issue will suffer as a result of 'dubious AIDS data.'

Africa Action acknowledges the challenges faces by public health experts in their initial efforts to track the progression of HIV/AIDS in Africa, including the difficulties of analyzing a new disease and the constraints posed by weak 'reporting systems' in developing countries.

In recent years, as more information has become available about the course of HIV/AIDS, and as increased attention and resources have permitted more complete research, new estimates have emerged to replace earlier assessments of the extent of the disease and the rates of new infections on the continent.

Africa Action emphasizes that the existence of such new data, which may in some cases indicate a lower infection rate than earlier estimated in some parts of Africa, does not discount the magnitude or severity of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which continues to devastate the continent. The organization cautions that such revisions in HIV/AIDS data should not be interpreted as an indication that the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa is less serious than originally thought; by any estimates, at least 20 million people in Africa are currently living with HIV/AIDS and some 12 million African children have already lost one or both parents to the disease.

Africa Action strongly rejects the claim made in the Washington Post editorial of April 10th, that 'prolonging the life of an HIV-positive adult is expensive and difficult.' The organization notes that global activism in recent years has led to a widespread consensus around the right to affordable access to treatment for all those living with HIV/AIDS. The recognition of the value and importance of extending the lives of millions of people living with HIV/AIDS forms a critical part of a comprehensive global response to this pandemic.

Last year, the leaders of the world’s wealthy and powerful countries pledged to expand access to HIV/AIDS treatment to all those who need it by 2010. This political commitment marked an important acknowledgment of the principle that prolonging the lives of all people living with HIV/AIDS is a real possibility and a worthy goal. While noteworthy strides have been made in recent years in extending access to life-saving treatment to many people in Africa and other developing regions, barriers to universal access still exist and must be overcome.

As Africa Action and other organizations in the U.S. and throughout the African continent continue to work to expand the availability of such treatment, the attempt by The Washington Post to re-open the debate over the value and feasibility of universal access is irresponsible and most unwelcome.

From Africa Action