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Research and Information on HIV & AIDS in Africa

July 5, 2004    

There is an old saying about statistics...if you torture the stats long enough they will confess to anything. It seems that the Compassion Industry (read 'relief tourists') and the Panic Industry (read 'media') have been torturing the stats to get them to confess that Africa is drowning in incurable disease. This helps in generating distress and money for both industries. But it is not helping policy makers interested in solving the real problems.

The lack of comparative stats about mortality around the world is puzzling, but even more harrowing is the deliberate attempt to induce panic and to skew facts about Africa. The international media is fixated on proving that all Africans are dying of AIDS.

As suspect as the statistics purporting to report about Africa are, it is important to put even these suspect figures in perspective. It might help policy makers make the right decisions.

According to the WHO, Malaria is the leading cause of sickness and death, among diseases, in the world. Malaria infects between 300 and 500 million people every year and accounts for up to 2.7 million deaths annually. 80% to 90% of those deaths occur in Africa. It is responsible for 50% of the deaths of children in Africa.

Direct and indirect costs of malaria in Africa amounted to US $ 800 million in 1987, and reached US $ 1.8 billion annually in 1995. In early 1960s only 10% of the world's population was vulnerable to malaria, but as malaria parasites became resistant to pesticides and drugs, malaria has spread to areas previously free of the disease.

Africa supposedly accounts for 70% of world's HIV carriers. There are an estimated 27 million people in Africa with HIV, and a death rate of between 1.5 and about 2.5 million annually. So, in the final analysis, only about 2% of Africa's population has HIV, and about 25% annually has malaria. So then malaria still infects and kills more people than HIV. Yet malaria continues to slide down the scale of urgency, as every major conference on Africa is about HIV.

Then consider the fact that at least 20% of Africa's population is affected by war. About 160 million Africans live inside or near a war zone or a hot conflict zone, and the livelihood of millions more is severely impacted by conflict. War related injuries killed more people than malaria and HIV combined in the last 10 years. In fact economic failure and the rise of infection rates are directly attributable to war and chronic conflict in Africa.

Moreover, according to the US Department of Transportation, over 82,000 lives were lost due to car accidents in 2000, in Sub Saharan Africa alone. The department claims that accident figures are chronically under-reported. WHO projections show even greater numbers of fatalities. Car accidents are notoriously destructive to the most economically important demographic in Africa, more than HIV. Most car accident victims are bread winners, a disproportionately large percentage are professional people.

The problem with car accident statistics is that they generally account only for those who die on impact. They don't count those who develop long term physical defects, or who die a few months later. The cost to the medical system of treating physical injury is much greater than treating infections.

Considering that Africa has only 4% of the world's motor vehicles and yet accounts for over 10% of the world's crash fatalities, cars are responsible for a proportionally higher mortality rate than all other causes of death combined.

What is even more distressing is that car accidents are easily preventable. Cars are much larger and more visible than microbes. Cars are also not political, like guns or medication. You can't always stop marching armies bent on massacres, nor can you stop people from getting bitten by malaria-carrying insects, nor can you always stop young people bent on having uprotected sex, or poor people using unsterilized needles and razors, or scientists infecting you with HIV contaminated vaccines...but most cars accidents happen in public, and are easy to prevent.

When all forms of preventable injury-related deaths are combined, they account for more than all disease-related deaths in Africa. War, cars, drowning, fires, falls, not only kill, but they have a devastating impact on the economy.

But, the largest killer of all in Africa is malnutrition. People generally associate malnutrition with children. Yet malnutrition is eating away at the adult population in more devastating ways. Combined with stress, it is the unseen driver behind all the other killers, war, accidents and infections. The modern dietary habits of Africans are responsible for the political and economic choices we make, and addressing this is key to maintaining healthy populations and communities with strong immunity to disease.

We have to build our national life around issues of how to manage and share our food and water, how to live and perform our jobs in a healthy and safe environment, and how to manage social stress...otherwise we build communities on false priorities, which in turn lead to conflict, violence, illness, bad economic infrastructure and accidents.

See: Malnutrition Responsible for HIV Progression
Click: Vitamins Keep AIDS at Bay