Africa is more heavily affected by HIV and AIDS than any other region of the world. An estimated 22 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2007 and approximately 1.9 million additional people were infected with HIV during that year. In just the past year, the AIDS epidemic in Africa has claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million people in this region. More than eleven million children have been orphaned by AIDS.1
The extent of the AIDS crisis is only now becoming more alarming in many African countries, as more and more people with HIV are becoming ill. Without clear and comprehensive education and action to help treat and prevent the spread of AIDS, the death toll will continue to rise.
In South Africa over four million people are living with HIV/AIDS – more than in any other country in the world. South Africa is now in the midst of a legal case that has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives every year. This year nearly 300,000 women in South Africa with HIV will give birth. The majority do not know their HIV status and are not given information or medicine that can reduce the risk of HIV transmission to their children. As a result, at least 70,000 children will be infected with HIV during birth and through breastfeeding. With the implementation of scientifically proven mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) prevention programs, the number of children infected with HIV could be reduced by half.
The Treatment Action Campaign (the activist group in South Africa that was largely responsible for the victory in the widely-publicised lawsuit against multinational drug companies last year) has taken the government to court to force them to provide this simple preventative treatment to expectant mothers. They insist that the government has the resources and capacity to do this -- mother-to-child prevention saves far more money than it costs.
We, the undersigned, write to ask the South African government to take action in the struggle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We demand that the Southafrican government provide access to antiretroviral medicines, which have been shown to dramatically lower the transmission of HIV to children. The World Health Organization has repeatedly outlined the benefit of antiretroviral medication for the prevention of HIV transmission and that it greatly outweighs potential risks.
Unless action is taken with all possible speed, millions will continue to needlessly die. Neither conscience nor common sense permits a delay in the full-scale implementation of programs to stop the spread the spread of HIV or treat those already living with the virus.
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