President George Bush will pay his final official visit to the continent this coming week. According to the White House website the president and his wife will visit Africa between Feb 15 and 21 to see firsthand the impact of America’s aid towards prevention and containment of HIV/AIDS and other tropical diseases.
President Bush’s itinerary will include stops in Tanzania, Benin, Ghana, Liberia and Rwanda. Although Bush is wildly unpopular at home and in many other parts of the world, many Africans still view the president in a good light because of the visible impact that his aid policies have had on the continent’s struggle with AIDS. Mr. Bush launched the $500m aids fund for Africa in 2002 in an attempt to help many of the African countries struggling with high infection rates and lack of ARVs. Since then many of the countries that received the aid have managed to reduce the spread of AIDS and deaths due to the virus through the provision of affordable ARVs.
AIDS remains one of Africa’s biggest challenges. The continent has the world’s highest average infection rates and is faced with a crisis as millions of children continue to be orphaned by the scourge. A few countries like Uganda have managed to stem the spread of the virus while others have chosen to treat it as less of a threat. Yet others have even gone comical – South Africa and the Gambia come to mind. In South Africa, Mbeki insists that HIV does not cause AIDs and his health minister thinks that herbs would cure the illness. The President of Gambia on the other hand insists that he can cure the disease, but only on Thursdays.The church in Africa in its reluctance to endorse the use of condoms among the faithful is also playing a role in the spread of the disease.
I hope that Bush’s visit will be a wake up call to African health officials. The continent’s health services are in dire need of modernization since most of them lack equipment and drugs and cannot deal with even the simplest of illnesses.