Winning and losing the war against AIDS in Africa
By Thomas Mountain
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 24, 2009, 00:19

ASMARA, Eritrea -- In 1991, as AIDS was just beginning to impact Africa, two countries that exemplify how the war against AIDS in Africa is being won and lost experienced dramatic political developments.

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and went on to become the first African President of South Africa.

In 1991, South Africa had the largest, most developed economy in Africa. South Africa had a large, modern, profitable mining, agriculture and fishing industry. South Africa was the center of an extended, modern transportation infrastructure including road and rail systems that covered most of southern Africa. South Africa had a growing tourism industry and a steel and auto manufacturing sector as well.

At the time of Mandela�s release from prison the average life expectancy in South Africa was 61 years. Today AIDS is ravaging South Africa, killing some 3,000 a day, over 1,000,000 a year, with millions more people infected. Soweto alone buries 900 a day due to AIDS.

Today in South Africa, the average life expectancy is 45 years and falling steadily.

To summarize the attitude towards AIDS amongst the leadership of South Africa, the newly elected president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, in an interview a few years ago, confirmed that he had had unprotected sex (without a condom) with a woman with HIV. When asked whether he was worried about being infected with HIV his reply was that he didn�t need to worry because he had taken a shower after having sex with her.

In contrast stands the small, newly independent country of Eritrea.

In 1991, Eritrea, after a 30-year war against a genocidal Ethiopian occupation, won its independence. When Eritrea militarily defeated the Ethiopian army and declared its independence, the Eritrean economy was completely devastated and 80 percent of the Eritrean people were dependent on foreign food aid for their survival.

Today, even after surviving another Ethiopian invasion and a worst in memory two-year drought, Eritrea is the only country in Africa to have actually reduced HIV infection rates. According to representatives for Physicians for Peace, Eritrea has reduced HIV infection rates by almost 40 percent in the last 10 years. The World Bank recently use the word �remarkable� to describe the rapid rise in Eritrea�s average life expectancy rate.

In the mid 1990s, the Eritrean leadership declared AIDS to be a threat to Eritrea�s national security and launched a major public education campaign featuring billboards, radio and television advertising promoting condom use amongst its people.

These two starkly different examples show how the war against AIDS is being won and lost in Africa. Of course, bad news on how AIDS is ravaging Africa is regularly featured in the Western media while the fact that Eritrea is demonstrating how AIDS can be defeated remains a well-kept secret.

Stay tuned to Online Journal for more news from Africa�s Horn that the so called �free press in the West� refuses to cover.

Thomas C. Mountain, the last white man living in Eritrea, was in a former life, educator, activist and alternative medicine practitioner in the USA. Email thomascmountain at

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