An “African” American’s perspective on World AIDS Day

Vivian N. Duru, Program Coordinator, Health Department

He’s dead! “Uncle Martin is dead” was all I was told, a mere 14 year old Nigerian American girl, in the car with my mother, shocking waves pierced my heart over and over trying to understand how my 43 year old uncle could be dead. “She is dead” was the same verdict I received one year later from my mother that my aunt had passed away, leaving behind 7 children. My mind was confused as I tried to understand the depths of this conversation that my mother was trying to have, but AIDS was all she said A.I.D.S a four letter word that had the power to wipe out an entire continent.

At the time AIDS had only been a term passed around in my health class in America, but in my home continent of Africa it was indeed more than just a disease it was a pandemic. The rates in which people were dying in Africa had become excessive. As stated by Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan “between the years of 1999 and 2000 more people died of AIDS in Africa than in all the wars on the continent.”

The death tolls for Africans residing in the continent are steadily increasing each and every day and are expected to have a severe impact on many economies in the region. In some areas of the world this impact of the loss of lives due to AIDS is already being felt. Life expectancies in some nations are decreasing rapidly, while mortality rates are increasing for people of all ages.

As UNAIDS states that in 2008, 33.4 million people in Africa are living with HIV- furthermore in the same year 2.7 million individuals were infected with HIV; meanwhile about 2 million people died from AIDS. In the absence of a medical vision for these people, many more people will be dying from this pandemic if something isn’t done soon.

As the United States commemorates its 30 year anniversary on December 1, 2011 with the theme: “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections. Zero Discrimination. Zero AIDS-Related Deaths.”  I have to stop and go back to that 14 year old girl that asks, “What year is it for Africans”? How many more lives have been lost to this infection in Africa? When will Africa begin its ‘back to zero initiative’? The continued what’s and whys of this disease and what really needs to be done to eliminate this virus before it wipes out an entire country. Many Africans have traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to the USA to seek a better life, pursuing higher education to take back in the hopes of healing a dying nation. Today what message can we provide to send back? Our current leadership under President Obama’s has devised a National AIDS Strategy which focuses on 3 main goals:

  • Reducing the number of people who become infected with HIV;
  • Increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes for people living with HIV; and,
  • Reducing HIV-related health disparities.

With high hopes that this strategy can be adopted into a format which can be utilized in African countries. In conjunction with other strategies being developed in the US, The NAACP’s Health Department and its A.C.T. brand (Advocacy, Community Mobilization & Education and Training) are the change agents needed in developing a strategy for the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.