There is more good news in the area of public health. A couple of days ago I posted on the decline of human mortality rates in the tropics. Now the UN agency for HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, reports that HIV infection rates, especially of the mother-to-child variety, are on a downward trend.
New infections with H.I.V. have dropped by half in the past decade in 25 poor and middle-income countries, many of them in Africa, the continent hardest hit by AIDS, the United Nations said Tuesday.
The greatest success has been in preventing mothers from infecting their babies, but focusing testing and treatment on high-risk groups like gay men, prostitutes and drug addicts has also paid dividends, said Michel Sidibé, the executive director of the agency U.N.AIDS.
Some regions, like Southern Africa and the Caribbean, are doing particularly well, while others, like Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, are not. Globally, new infections are down 22 percent from 2001, when there were 3.2 million. Among newborns, they fell 40 percent, to 330,000 from 550,000.
A while back I posted something on Sierra Leone’s shocking maternal mortality stats. This week TIME magazine has this sad piece on Mamma Sessay, an 18 year old Sierra Leonean woman who died during childbirth. The images could have been a little bit more respectful (there is a little too much poorism involved for my liking) but the message gets home: Giving birth is still a most dangerous undertaking for the vast majority of women on the Continent.
Kudos to outfits like this one that work to save the lives of women on the Continent. Stories like Mamma’s are a grim reminder of how much still needs to be done to lower maternal mortality rates in the less developed regions of the world. Educating more women is the obvious long-term solution – statistics abound on how education decreases fertility and maternal mortality rates while increasing the quality of childcare. More urgently, however, is the need to improve pre-natal care and eradicate anachronistic cultural practices that allow men to marry 14 year old girls (the late Mamma was 14 when she got married).