5 Lessons From Africa About Fighting AIDS

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

Linda Villarosa

I agree. When I traveled to Ethiopia and more recently Zambia, I was struck by the many ways Africans beat back the disease with a spirit of hope, collectivism and action frequently missing in this country. Thanks to recent scientific advances, drug therapy will play an increasing role in both HIV prevention and treatment.

But medication alone won’t stop the epidemic. It must be coupled with the kind of community-focused, hands-on prevention and care common in Africa. Here are five lessons from countries like Zambia and Ethiopia about fighting the epidemic:

Train Regular People to Deliver Services and Care 

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.