Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Africans Outdo Americans in Following AIDS Therapy

Very encouraging news in its' own right, but also another slap in the face for those who like to imagine that everything Africans do must necessarily be inferior to the norm elsewhere.

Contradicting long-held prejudices that have clouded the campaign to bring AIDS drugs to millions of people in Africa, evidence is emerging that AIDS patients there are better at following their pill regimens than Americans are.

Some doctors, politicians and pharmaceutical executives have argued that it is unsafe to send millions of doses of antiretroviral drugs to Africa, for fear that incomplete pill-taking will speed the mutation of drug-resistant strains that could spread around the world.

The danger already exists: nearly 10 percent of all new H.I.V. infections in Europe are resistant to at least one drug.

For Africa, the issue is particularly touchy because it is tinged with racism. In 2001, for example there was an outcry when the director of the United States Agency for International Development said that AIDS drugs "wouldn't work" in Africa because many Africans don't use clocks and "don't know what Western time is."

Now surveys done in Botswana, Uganda, Senegal and South Africa have found that on average, AIDS patients take about 90 percent of their medicine. The average figure in the United States is 70 percent, and it is worse among subgroups like the homeless and drug abusers.

Of course, some countries do better than others (what would Nigeria be without corruption in a government program?), but the trend is undeniably very positive. Nevertheless, the primary focus has to remain on prevention, rather than therapy, and developments on that front are nowhere near as encouraging.