AIDS in Africa: Too Little Too Late

By Rahab S Hawa

Latest statistics confirm that South Africa remains the epicentre of the global AIDS epidemic with 4.7 million people infected - more than anywhere else on earth.

Citing South African officials, the International Herald Tribune on 22 March reported that half a million more South Africans were infected with HIV in the year 2000.

‘Twenty-five percent of adults – one of every nine South Africans are now living with HIV,’ it said.

South Africa’s situation reflects the AIDS pandemic that threatens to destroy the entire African continent.

According to UNAIDS latest report, AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2000, in the year 2000 alone, 3.8 million adults and children were infected, bringing the total number of people living in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with HIV/AIDS to 25.3 million.

AIDS deaths in 2000 totalled 2.4 million, as compared with 2.2 million in 1999.

‘Africa has 70% of the adults and 80% of the children living with HIV in the world, and has buried three quarters of the more than 20 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS,’ says the Update.

Women form the majority of AIDS cases, with most of the new infections occurring in young women between 15-25 years of age.

At the end of 1999, UNAIDS estimated that some 36 percent of the adult population in Botswana, 25 percent in Zimbabwe and Swaziland and 20 percent in Zambia were infected.

Estimates from the US Census Bureau project that AIDS deaths and the loss of future population from deaths of women of childbearing age mean that by 2010, SSA will have 71 million fewer people.

Life expectancy will fall from about 60 years to around 30 years for the worst affected countries, and the rate of population growth will stagnate or turn negative for several countries in the region.

Life-expectancy projections, presented at the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa last July, show that by 2010, it will fall to 29 in Bostwana; 30 in Swaziland; 33 in Namibia and Zimbabwe and 36 in South Africa, Malawi and Rwanda. Without AIDS, it would have been around 70 years of age in many of these countries.

The Durban Conference was informed that by 2003, the populations of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe will begin to fall because of AIDS deaths and dropping fertility rates resulting from the pandemic.

These shocking figures reveal an impending catastrophe on a scale that is unparalleled and far exceeds the bubonic plague in Europe, which killed some 30 million people in the 14th century: it took Europe more than a century to recover its population to levels that existed before the plague.

They show that AIDS is now out of control, spreading fast and furiously, threatening the continent with extinction.

According to the Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, ‘We are at the beginning of a pandemic, not the middle, not the end. We certainly know before we’re able to stop this pandemic, we’ll have hundreds of millions of people infected and dead and that’s the best case scenario.’

How does one explain this ongoing genocide in Africa? Why was it allowed to happen in the first place? Why was nothing done despite the warnings for more than 15 years?

Recent reports reveal that the US government, including the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organisation (WHO) were aware of the threat of the global AIDS epidemic but were in a state of denial.

According to The Washington Post dated 5 July 2000, two CIA officers produced a report in 1991 entitled ‘The Global AIDS Disaster’, which projected 45 million cases of AIDS infections by 2000 – which are fatal, and the great majority of it being in Africa.

This report, known as Interagency Intelligence Memorandum 91-10005, which ‘foretold one of the deadliest calamities in human experience’, was received with mere ‘indifference’, according to the principal author.

In the course of undertaking the study, the two officers, Katherine Hall and Kenneth Brown, told the Washington Post that they had encountered numerous obstacles. Speaking of one military colleague at the National Intelligence Council, Brown said: “His penetrating analysis was ‘Oh, it will be good, because Africa is overpopulated anyway’ ”.

More than anything else, there was no serious international effort to tackle the AIDS problem. In fact, there appeared to be a deliberate policy of not doing anything.

According to the Washington Post expose, ‘for a decade, the world knew the dimension of the coming catastrophe and the means available to slow it individually and collectively, most of those with power decided not to act’.

According to the Director of AIDS Prevention at the CDC, who said: ‘We saw it coming and we didn’t act as quickly as we could have. I’m not sure what that says about how seriously we took it, how seriously we took lives in Africa’. There was no urgency to act.

In fact, the rich countries had lost interest in AIDS, once AIDS ‘was no longer a threat to the West’, said Michael Merson, who would later head the WHO's AIDS programme. ‘In the 90s, it became clear we were not going to have a major heterosexual epidemic in the States’, he explained.

Sources made available to the Washington Post revealed that the director of population, health and nutrition in USAID acknowledged that there was ‘the lack of political will and resources to combat the spread of HIV’ and ‘decisions made by policy-makers and program administrators … were simply the product of a different world view and set of priorities’.

This state of affairs was found to plague the WHO as well. According to the Washington Post report, the WHO’s global aids programme (UNAIDS) did not receive the support of the new Director-General Hiroshi Nakajima, who succeeded Halfdan Mahler when he retired in 1988. Nakajima was accused by the Director of UNAIDS, Jonathan Mann, of obstruction that ‘paralyzed our efforts completely’. With the resignation of Mann, the WHO’s AIDS programme fell apart.

The AIDS epidemic was not in the list of Nakajima’s priorities. By virtually ignoring the seriousness of the disease, the WHO had undermined any effective global strategy to stop the spread of the AIDS pandemic.

Earlier in 1990 and 1991, the WHO had projected that tens of millions of people will die of the disease by 2000.

International agencies, like the World Bank, even found a ‘silver lining’ in the AIDS disaster sweeping Africa. In an internal World Bank study in June 1992, it was stated that ‘if the only effect of the AIDS epidemic were to reduce the population growth rate, it would increase the growth rate of per capita income in any plausible economic model’. Speaking to the Washington Post, South African economist Alan Whiteside said, ‘Only the World Bank would put that on paper’.

This shameful catalogue of utter indifference, willful neglect, and denial of the looming calamity continues.

James Sherry, director of programme development for UNAIDS, says it plainly: ‘I can’t think of the coming of any event which was more heralded to less effect. It still hasn’t changed. In terms of real deployment of resources, it hasn’t changed. The bottomline is, the people who are dying from AIDS don’t matter in this world.’

More shocking is the revelation that the AIDS pandemic was a deliberate policy to depopulate Africa and elsewhere.

According to Jeffrey Steinberg, writing in the Executive Intelligence Review of 11 August last year, the battle against AIDS is a fight against the powerful international economic and political forces, which are bent on reducing the population of Africa.

Citing a study commissioned by Kissinger in 1974, who was then the US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, the National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM-200), which was declassified in late 1989, stated that: ‘The political consequences of current population factors in the LDCs (less developed countries) are damaging to the internal stability and international relations of countries in whose advancement the US is interested, thus creating political or even national security problems for the US’.

The study went on to say that ‘world population growth is widely recognized within the government as a current danger of the highest magnitude calling for urgent measures’.

Further to this, his article quotes Peter Schwartz, a former executive of the Royal Dutch Shell group and founder of the Global Business Network, who had done a study in 1986 on (AIDS) for AT&T, Royal Dutch Shell and Volvo. According to Schwartz: ‘We concluded that people who have AIDS in Africa should not be kept alive; they spread the disease. It is better they should die quickly’.

Meanwhile, AIDS in Africa rages on, leading Africa on the road to catastrophe.