Africa records steep declines in HIV incidence and malaria deaths

By Paul Okediji

Africa has been making progress concerning achieving the sixth MDG. The fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is being sustained in many parts of the continent – even stepped up. This is noteworthy as some other regions of the world (developed and developing) are showing worrying signs of regression, particularly for HIV/AIDS.

Worldwide, Africa is still the region most heavily affected by HIV/AIDS. Estimates show that the continent, though just 12% of the net world population, accounts for 68% of people living with HIV. However, the epidemic has remain stable or even declining in some parts of the continent, in contrast with North America, East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia where the epidemic is increasing. The number of new HIV infections (incidence rate) in Africa has dropped by over 21%, from 2.6 million to about 1.9 million. According to the MDG 2012 report, “HIV has fallen in 21 African countries, the continent most affected by the AIDS epidemic”. For instance, Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe have recorded steep declines in annual HIV incidence rates.

So far, the proportion of the African population with advanced HIV infection with access to antiretroviral drugs is increasing. Globally, the most dramatic increases in ART coverage can be found in Africa (excluding North Africa) with a 20% upsurge from 2009 to 2010 alone. And this has contributed largely to the aversion of AIDS-related deaths. The UNAIDS estimates that access to treatment has prevented 2.5 million HIV-related deaths between 1995 and 2010, mainly through crashing mother-to-child transmission rates.

As regards halting by 2012 and reversing the incidence of malaria and other major diseases, political commitment has helped in reducing malaria and tuberculosis. Since 2000, malaria mortality has dropped by 33% in the continent, much faster than the global rate of 25%. Also, the number of new cases of tuberculosis has fallen and its prevalence was lower in 2010 than in 2005 in all the sub-regions of Africa.

Intense malaria control interventions have helped African countries experience a fall in confirmed cases (or malaria admissions) and in deaths in recent years. Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe experienced increases in malaria cases in 2009, but this has been reversed after intensification of control measures.

The Stop TB strategy in Africa, with the support of the WHO, has increased the access of Africans to high-quality first-line anti-TB drugs. This really helped many African countries to reduce the incidence and prevalence of TB, as prevalence rates have fallen in all sub-regions. However, more still needs to be done as TB infection rates depend not only on HIV status but also on institutional and socio-economic factors such as crowded living and working conditions and poor sanitation.

Although progress towards this goal is encouraging, the status of the African continent is still off-track. The challenges which remain includes addressing the capacity and resource gaps of national health systems as well as tackling inequities in access and use, particularly among low-income groups, rural populations and women. With these, it is believed that an integrated approach to HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB will have positive spillover effects on maternal and child mortality, educational performance and the overall socio-economic development of the continent.

This is a summary of the 2012 MDG Report for Africa, on goal 6.

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