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Weeklong Activities Focus On AIDS In Africa

April 2, 2002

Heather Heilman
Phone: 865-5714

hheilman@tulane.edu

The AIDS epidemic in Africa is something entirely different from its counterpart in the United States. In America, rates of new infections are relatively low and AIDS is a treatable, though still not curable, disease. In Africa, 17 million people have already died of AIDS and more than 27 million people are currently infected with HIV.

Continent-wide, about nine percent of the adult population is infected with HIV. In the hardest-hit countries of southern Africa, that number rises to 20 percent. Only a miniscule number of those will receive treatment of any type. It's estimated that a 15-year-old boy in Botswana today has a mind-boggling 85 percent chance of dying of AIDS.

More and more public health professionals are coming to the conclusion that AIDS will ravage sub-Saharan Africa unchecked until the wealthy nations of the developed world step in and take action.

"This is a human rights issue," said Mara Rosner. "My goal is for everyone at Tulane to care about it." Rosner is a third-year student in Tulane's MD/MPH program and the founder of the new student chapter of Physicians for Human Rights, an international organization dedicated to promoting health by protecting human rights. PHR and the Student Global AIDS Campaign--another newcomer on the downtown campus--will stage several events during AIDS in Africa Week (April 8-12) designed to get people throughout the Tulane community involved in the issue.

On Monday, April 8, a panel of African public health professionals who are now students at the School of Public Health will share their knowledge and experience of the epidemic. The panel will include Logan Ndahiro, a nurse from Rwanda, John Ong'ech, a Kenyan physician, and Felix Puma, a Zambian physician. The discussion will take place at noon in room 6065 of the medical school.

"We want to get different perspectives on the problem," said Rosner. The African epidemic is extremely complicated. In many parts of Africa, women often have little sexual autonomy and men consider condom use an affront to their masculinity. Those with the disease may not get diagnosed at all, or they may hide their diagnosis out of shame. There is little public education on the subject of HIV and AIDS and a near total lack of treatment in most countries.

Uganda, however, has been successful in reducing the prevalence of AIDS, showing that it can be done. On Thursday, April 11, the Department of International Health and Development will sponsor another AIDS in Africa Week event--the Physicians for Human Rights/Hewlett Visiting Lecture, which will take place in the medical school auditorium at noon. Lunch will be available before the lecture in the medical school lobby and the film A Closer Walk will be screened afterward. The speaker will be announced soon.

Other events during the week include a workshop to help students arrange externships in Africa and a meeting with Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu to seek her support for increased federal funding for the Global AIDS and Health Fund. Students will accept donations at information booths around the Health Sciences Center campus throughout the week.

Look for details to be posted around the Health Sciences Center campus, or call Charity Milne, founder of Tulane's chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, for more information. She can be reached at 583-0408.

Heather Heilman may be reached at hheilman@tulane.edu.

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