5 Lessons From Africa About Fighting AIDS

The continent hasn't done everything right, but America should take note of these strategies.

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Zambia has just over 1,200 physicians serving a population of 13 million, according to 2006 data from the World Health Organization. To help fill the enormous gap, the country has recruited and trained thousands of community-health workers to provide services, including more than 4,500 adherence-support workers who earn a monthly allowance to help people living with HIV stay on their medication.

Ethiopia is a leader in this area. For almost a decade, an army of some 40,000 health-extension workers, mainly young women, go door to door, traveling on foot or bicycle between villages offering reproductive health services, education and support. They receive a year of training and a small salary.

In the face of our own shortage of trained health care practitioners, particularly in the South, we should look at how to adopt a similar strategy.

Fully Engage the Faith-Based Community to Provide Appropriate, Nonjudgmental HIV Services

In the U.S., the black church has come a long way in recognizing HIV/AIDS, thanks to the work of organizations like the Balm in Gilead and progressive individual pastors and congregations. But it has a way to go.

In Zambia, religious institutions and leaders are deeply involved in the AIDS crisis. In fact, Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) is the country's second-largest health care provider. It supports hospitals, clinics, HIV/AIDS organizations and groups that care for children orphaned by the disease. The government and HIV groups have reached out to traditional healers -- some who believe HIV is caused by bad spirits -- to work together to battle HIV/AIDS.

And unlike far too many faith-based organizations here, the church establishment in Zambia has largely moved past judgment and beyond abstinence-only messages. "When HIV came here, the church took on the role of providing care, particularly in rural areas," says Dr. Clement Chela, director general of the National AIDS Council, a government agency. In fact, the chairman of NAC's board is a senior church pastor.

"Early on, some were obstructive, especially on condoms. But the church has come a long way in providing all kinds of reproductive health services, HIV support, counseling and treatment -- including condoms."

Imagine if congregations all over our country, especially those in poor black communities and including rich mega-churches, took on HIV/AIDS as a cause -- with compassion instead of judgment.

Include Men in HIV/AIDS Prevention

HIV/AIDS in Zambia: The Faces of an Epidemic

A writer snapped these photos depicting the daily battle against the disease in Ethiopia and Zambia.