Saturday, 22 November 2008

Aids -- 40 years on ……Is Africa coping ??

In the 1970’s the world perception of the virus was that it was common among Gay men and drug users. Through out the 1980’s and the 1990’s it became a disease typical among sex workers in the third world. In the year 2000 dawn of the new millennium, it became evident that infection rates were high among people living in Sub- Saharan Africa especially women.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) estimate that there are currently 33 million people in the world living with HIV, there is an estimated 24 million people living with the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa, 61% of those infected are women. In South Africa and Zimbabwe 75% of young people infected are girls between the ages 15-24.

Factors that have contributed to HIV increase are cultural taboos and unequal power of relationship; it is difficult for women to choose their sexual partners and how often they have to be intimate. Women are unable to make decision in the use of condoms, which are instead made by men.

Women are more vulnerable than men due to gender inequality, lack of legal rights, education and understanding of the issues, coupled with the dilemma of under age sex, early marriage, polygamous relationship and female circumcisions. Women are at risk to the infection through lack of knowledge about the contamination process, further alienating them from actively taking part in farming activities and eventually leading to a devastating effect on their children.

UNAIDS urges governments to get the right laws and policies in place ensuring that women are educated and empowered through economic power by keeping the land, homes and assets when their husband dies. In South Africa violence against women especially rape and drug dependency makes women liable to sexual exploitation and vulnerable to infection.

The issue of Debt payment is a major problem in the fight against the disease, according to Aid Charities and NGO’s there are one million people living with HIV in Zambia, the government currently spend 2 US Dollars a day per person on health care compared to 24 US Dollars on servicing external dept payments.

In Sierra Leone it is common practice for Sugar Daddies to offer school girls material goods and cash in return for sexual favours often exposing them to the disease, usually with the consent of older family members who are powerless to act due to poverty and ignorance.

WHO policy statement states that screening options should focus; firstly on people who are showing symptom of the disease e.g. tuberculoses patients. Secondly, antenatal screening focuses on the impact of women’s decision to be tested during pregnancy. Thirdly, compulsory screening is mandatory for providing safe blood. Fourthly, voluntary screening, involves a rapid test facilities and timely result confirmation coupled with wide spread assurances of counselling support and protection from discrimination for those found to be positive.

Screening is very important as it will allow governments to support agencies by planning effectively and apportion budget to the appropriate sector of need e.g. Health Care. By screening for HIV, governments will be able to address the cumulative impact of the disease by providing care facilities for orphans; governments can keep people with the disease productive members of the community by providing free antiretroviral treatment and nutritional food. Governments can reduce the annual toll of new infection by enabling people in their communities to protect themselves, through the use of condoms and bring health care support directly to patients. With screening governments will be able to seek synergy and build on economies of scale through early screening. Screening is vital to HIV positive women, who can protect their babies from the disease by offering formula milk; the impact of this is financially and requires constant supply of clean water and fire wood to ensure sterile feeding.

The downside to screening is that it can lead to political instability, brain drain, low saving rate and an increase in social support caused by vast numbers of people unable to work due to ill health. Governments may be unable to collect taxes from these groups of the population leading to social disintegration, poverty, starvation and famine. The resulting effect is a reduction in population size, breakdown in family composition, decline in life expectancy and an increase in child and infant mortality. Finally there could be an increase in the cost per head per man hour due to a reduction in man power.

Providing screening and cheap ant viral treatment will not address the current spread, but rather, governments will have to reverse policies on gender inequality, forge closer relationship with NGO’s and private entities, encourage community based support groups, eliminate poverty by provide good education, clean drinking water and good nutritional food. Failure to provide these basic human requirement risk women becoming an endangered species and the fate of human race will remain uncertain.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Modern day pirates -- Big Business on the open seas

Gone are the days when a Pirates quest was to follow an old shrivelled map that pointed to some unforgotten island were silver and gold trinkets could be found stashed in a pit.

The modern day pirate is more than likely an African surrounded by all the latest sophisticated devices, that can pinpoint a ship many miles out at sea, listen to it’s communication to learn of who was on board, advance intelligence that can confirm type of cargo, ship’s origin and it’s final destination.

Piracy is big business especially of the African coast line. Modern day pirates are very well armed with a clear strategy in place. Snatch and grab followed by a ransom has been the plan of choice. The success of pirates in recent months have resulted in millions of dollars changing hands as vessel owners negotiate franticly to get their hostages and the precious cargo back.

Acute Poverty, desperation, greed and lack of an effective naval force to police the African coastline is to blame. But who should pay for such a police force? Most African governments are struck for cash and there has been very little investment in naval activity since their Independence.

The African Union will have to recognise this growing problem and try in the Medium term, to offer help to those nations who are unable and in some cases unwilling to police their coastline. In the Long term lobbying efforts from developed countries in the South could see the United Nations take a pivotal role in guaranteeing an effective Naval force. In the short term vessel owners big or small will have to choose other shipping routes that could prolong their journey or utilise expensive security forces that may deter would-be pirates. The cost of any of these choices will impact on the end user who would have to bear the brunt of cost levied on their product of choice.

Some have said the pirates are freedom fighters and not terrorist -- if that is the case who’s freedom are they fighting for?? What is clear is that many of the towns and villages along the African coast line have seen new building sprout up with increasing activities in the market place.

The level of sophistication and intelligence used by the pirates thus far – leads me to ask - Could there be an unknown Pirate sponsor out there??

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

1st Black African Family in the White House

The world has woken up this morning to a historic and stunning victory by the (President Elect) Barack Obama and his black family to live at the White House.

To his critics that say he is mixed race and not a black man or those that say if he had been three shades darker he would not have been elected. It is disrespectful to suggest that he is not black. Barack Obama calls himself black and is recognised by millions around the world as such.

Obama is clearly a unique man who represents both sides of the racial divide. But why is-it that the world was willing to accept Bob Marley the greatest reggae super star as a black man irrespective that he had a white father. Whilst some in today’s world find it extremely difficult to accept Obama in the same light.

Surely a person’s race is determined by the colour of his skin. If Obama had been born 150 years ago he would have would have been sold into slavery. Disturbing as it may sound the first 11 presidents of the United States (US) would have owned him.

The US has done it self proud and shown that it can put aside differences, look beyond the barriers of sex and colour and elect its first black president. Obama now reflects and represents the true stars and stripes of the United States of America. America is clearly leading the way in race relations, how much longer will we have to wait for other nations to follow this quest for change.

Obama’s African roots are strong and clear to see. The African continent is in jubilant and celebrating mood. Kenya is leading the way by declaring a 24 hour national holiday in celebration of Obama’s victory.

Kenya is the home of Obama’s late farther, the home of a long line of Obama’s extended family and home of the now famous grandmother (Sarah Obama).

After the euphoria of this momentous day would have died down, Obama will have to face the reality and the challenges of addressing the American economy, Climate change, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Nuclear stand off with Iran / North Korea and calming Russian fears against expansion plans of NATO into Europe.

Obama is an unknown quantity, how will he react, what will he do, what strategies will he adopt to heal a divided and broken world. The next 12 months will be very interesting as we await his next move.

Monday, 3 November 2008

If only Africans on the African continent could vote in the United States Elections

If only Africans on the African continent could vote, then the race for the White House would be a foregone conclusion.

Africans across the globe and Africans at home on the Continent are poised waiting anxiously to see the Democrats win the United States Elections.

Had it been any other election or any other candidate, most would not have been concerned. The stakes are high and the pressure is on!!

Obama is a son of Africa, he is appreciated by millions that have never met him but have heard his inspirational speeches. Many have followed his career path from an unknown two years ago to verge of a famous and historic victory.

Voter apathy is a genuine threat to Obama victory. Despite Obama’s lead in the pole the reality is that he would need all the support he can get – for what I expect must be a tense and nail biting experience for him and his family.

The American economy is in trouble, heavily in dept not to mention high expectations on issues of health care, housing and job creation. Globally how will he deal with Africa and the Middle East? Only time will tell for a Leader who has never managed a State but could be faced with global challenges that are pressing and urgent.

The truth is a win for Obama will without a doubt change the world. The real question is how will he mange the expectation of millions of people with a famous victory against numerous challenges both domestically and internationally?