African Union launches HIV prevention campaign

The African Union in partnership with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) initiated a unified call from leaders of many African nations to increase and improve HIV prevention services on the continent. On April 11 government leaders from several countries kicked off this initiative. Among these was Meles Zenawi, the Primer Minister of Ethiopia, who emphasized how the scale up of prevention services can have profound effects in dealing with the epidemic.

Elements of this comprehensive prevention plan include addressing the root causes of HIV transmission, improving the availability of and access to HIV testing and counseling services to increase knowledge about the virus and help prevent transmission, and developing strategies specifically targeting women and youth with important messages on HIV prevention. At the launch, First Lady Jeannette Kagame of Rwanda spoke about the disproportionate number of women in Africa who are HIV infected. Other components of the effort include the need to strengthen and expand existing healthcare systems and programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Of the 5 million new HIV infections in 2003, 3.2 million occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, according the latest UNAIDS statistics. And although access to HIV treatment and care has increased in recent years, the huge number of new infections can cause a significant burden on existing programs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS predict that implementation of broad prevention programs such as these could help avert 63% of new HIV infections that are expected to occur in the next 6 years. This initiative was launched in advance of a Special Summit on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria that will convene next month in Abuja, Nigeria involving African Union heads of state.