The AIDS Emergency

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Commentary:  The Toll on Women and Children

The AIDS Emergency

By Janat Mukwaya *

The advance of antiretroviral drugs in industrialized countries has left some with the illusion that the worst of the AIDS epidemic has passed. Nothing could be further from reality in the developing world where the silent, voracious epidemic is wiping out the historic gains of the public health and economic development efforts of the last 20 years.

Two decades have passed — a generation for us — since the first rumours drifted out of the remote villages along Lake Victoria, telling of a bewildering illness that sapped its victims to the bone.

Since then, like a vast thresher, AIDS has churned through our fertile land with ruthless force, cutting down the young, the educated, so many of our people in the prime of their productive life: 1.8 million Ugandans have died, 1.7 million children have lost their mother or both parents to AIDS over the course of the epidemic. Today, Uganda has the heart-breaking distinction of having the largest population of such orphans in the world.

Our story has been repeated across our continent. Of the 14 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS, more than 11 million have been Africans. A quarter of them have been children. Last year alone, 2 million men, women and children in Africa perished. We mourned our loved ones at nearly 5,500 funerals a day.

No one among us could have imagined the far-reaching devastation of the human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV), but some facts are now clear. Young people — notably women — are the leading victims of this epidemic. More than 7,000 young men and women around the world are infected every day, as are an additional 1,600 children under the age of 15.

 

* Her Excellency Janat Mukwaya is the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development in Uganda.

 

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