High HIV infections among young people could stem Africa’s development goals if nothing is done soon to end the epidemic.
Multi-billionaire and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates has said that Africa’s future is determined by how healthy and skilled or knowledgeable today’s youth are.
He was delivering his speech at the 14th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture Series at the University of Pretoria’s Mamelodi campus on Sunday, before joining other delegates at the International HIV/Aids conference in Durban on Monday.
“The youth must be given an opportunity to thrive. We must clear away the obstacles that keep young people from growing,” he said.
He noted that even though Africa has recorded great strides in fighting HIV, high rates of infections among the young people could hold Africa back from reaching its goals.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 2,000 young people under the age of 24 are newly infected every single day,” he said. “The number of young people dying from HIV has increased fourfold since 1990,” Gates said, worried by the fact that half of the people living with HIV are undiagnosed.
Gates, who founded Microsoft at the age of 19, also emphasized the need for quality education saying that “it is the best lever we have to give young people what they need to make the best of their lives.” This he said commending South Africa, which has some of the best universities in the region.
“Through education, Africa’s youth would have economic opportunities,” IOL quoted Gates. “Healthy and educated young people are eager to make their way in the world.”
Gates’ concern over the high rates of HIV in Africa was captured in the latest Lancet HIV Journal.
HIV patients living longer, but infection rates continue to surge
According to the recent report, after a steady decrease from the peak rate of 3.3 million in 1997, new infections are still stubbornly high averaging at 38·8 million people in 2015.
“Although many countries have experienced decreases in HIV/AIDS mortality and in annual new infections, other countries have had slowdowns or increases in rates of change in annual new infections,” extract from the report reads.
The lead author Haidong Wang from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle says that the report paints “a worrying picture of slow progress in reducing new HIV infections.”
The report which was released to coincide with the Aids conference in Durban, South Africa, details the progress made in fighting the disease that has claimed more than 30 million lives since the 1980s.
On his part, Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and founding executive director of Unaids, noted that the figure “means Aids is not over.” He added: “New infections of HIV is probably the most disturbing factor that has been announced at the conference.”
Is the goal to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 viable?
As it is, fighting the pandemic in Africa is becoming difficult due to funding shortages for HIV/Aids programs and medicines.
“In 2015, (funding) fell below the level spent in 2014, and in many low-income countries, resources for health are scarce and expected to grow slowly, if at all,” said Wang at a press conference in Durban.
“We must slow rates of new infection.”
To meet the global goal of ending Aids epidemic by 2030, there is a need to increase efforts to raise the estimated $36 billion needed annually, IHME director Christopher Murray noted.
As part of his contribution to ending the disease in Africa, Bill Gates has stated that his foundation will invest $5 billion in the region for the next five years.
He said that more has to be done especially in inventing “new and better preventative solutions like medicines you only have to take once a month or an effective vaccine.”
According to him, if the world doesn’t act both on today’s treatment and create new tools, “the hard-earned gains made against HIV in sub-Saharan Africa over the last 15 years could actually be reversed.”