A schoolboy running past an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign image painted on a wall
Photo: Kim Ludbrook/EPA/Scanpix
Regional co-operation in southern Africa aims to slow HIV/AIDS epidemic
The fight against HIV/AIDS in southern Africa is a key issue for the survival and development of society. A bold aim – to halve the number of newly infected people by 2015 – is creating fresh hopes about breaking the negative trend in the region. Sida is helping to build up the infrastructure to achieve this.
Peter Iveroth, who is in charge of Sida’s support to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), says:
“It’s very important to set a target; there hasn’t been one in the region before. Having someone to drive the work forwards is of great psychological importance. You also bind governments to a target, and decision makers are held accountable for the result.”
The Swedish/Norwegian HIV/AIDS team for southern Africa has long been working to give the disease higher priority in its regional co-operation work, which is now starting to achieve results. An important organization that has 15 African member countries, the SADC has had a specialist unit since 2003. The unit acts as a platform where the member states’ national councils for HIV/AIDS can construct common procedures to limit the spread of the infection in southern Africa. One important step towards a combined regional strategy was taken in 2006 when the first intergovernmental expert meeting was held in Lesotho. Its purpose was to identify the most important driving forces behind the increase in the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“It’s the prevention work that will eventually reverse the epidemic; this hasn’t been in focus enough previously,” Iveroth says. “Everything to do with sexual infection is very taboo. It’s easier to open up a discussion through common forums at the regional level. It then turns out that everyone has the same problem and you can find new ways to co-operate.”
Charting the epidemic facilitates prevention work
The core of the regional co-operation through the SADC consists of a more efficient method of charting the way in which HIV/AIDS is spreading in southern Africa. The introduction of common standards for testing and reporting has increased the demands on each country in terms of how the epidemic is being observed. Together, countries can gain a clearer picture of the spread of the disease throughout the region, across national borders.
The efforts that concern mobile populations – in other words, migrant labour forces and displaced people moving between countries – are particularly important within the regional co-operation. The increased economic co-operation in the region in recent years has led to a more open labour market and greater cross-border movement. Many long-term conflicts are also leading to a steady stream of displaced people leaving their countries involuntarily each year. These groups are particularly vulnerable and it is therefore important to include them in the common prevention work related to HIV/AIDS.
“These people must not be overlooked in the medical care register,” Iveroth says. “That’s why we’re working to establish more common clinics at the borders. They should have the same medicines and the same opportunities for taking samples. It’s also very important to have clear information campaigns at these border stations.”
Is it possible to halve the number of those infected?
The forecasts regarding the spread of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa are not exclusively positive. Reports of progress in some countries are countered by depressing announcements about new hyper-epidemics elsewhere. Given this background, you might wonder whether it is realistic, or indeed particularly wise, to set such high targets. However, Iveroth, who has had many years of experience of working as a doctor in Africa, is convinced that this is the way forward.
“If we don’t manage to halve the number, but perhaps reduce it by 40 per cent, it will still be very good,” he says. “The point of setting a target within the SADC is that we put pressure on countries to get politicians and leaders to improve the prevention work together. We can’t treat our way out of this epidemic; we must also cut the number of infected people – and to do that we need cross-border co-operation.”
SADC: the facts
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has existed since 1980, when it was formed as an alliance of nine majority governed countries in southern Africa, with the main aim of co-ordinating development projects to reduce the financial dependence on Apartheid-led South Africa. The original member states were Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The SADC’s vision today is to create economic well-being; and freedom, social justice, peace and security for the population in southern Africa within a regional community.