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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Africa: Health Updates

Africa: Health Updates
Date distributed (ymd): 990718
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +economy/development+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains three recent press releases from the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa, one on the HIV/AIDS emergency, and two on malaria. It also contains a press release on a new Uganda-U.S. study identifying an inexpensive drug for preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

New Links on Africa's Health

Africa Policy Strategic Action Issue Area

Starting point for web links on Africa's health, HIV/AIDS, malaria, reproductive health, and more.

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
on the debate over affordable AIDS drugs for African countries

Calls for protest against ABC report grossly biased in favor of U.S. drug companies' campaign to stop South Africa from producing affordable generic versions of AIDS drugs.

World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa
For further information:
WHO Regional Office for Africa (Temporary Office in Harare),
Division of External Coordination and Programme Promotion
Web: (site still in development)
Tel: 263-4-703580/ 705043/ 706951 Ext. 3141

Press Release: WHO/AFRO/PR/1999/024

African Countries Urged to Declare
HIV/AIDS a National Emergency
24 June 1999

Harare - African Heads of State and Government have been urged to declare HIV/AIDS "a national emergency"and to support the declaration by allocating appropriate resources to combat the epidemic.

"I hereby call on our Heads of State and Government to declare HIV/AIDS a national emergency or a national disaster. And for the sake of the future of our children and of our continent, I plead that this be done immediately, without further delay," Dr. Samba said at a press interview in Harare.

"If our leaders publicly acknowledge that we have this problem on our hands, people's attention will be even more focussed on the problem and international assistance will be more forthcoming to help us tame the epidemic. HIV/AIDS is already wiping out whole populations in parts of the continent," he said.

Dr. Samba noted that Africa which has only 10% of the world's resources, carries 90% of the global disease burden and accounts for close to 70% of people living with AIDS, 83% of AIDS deaths and 95% of the global AIDS orphans.

"Indeed HIV/AIDS has become a development issue," Dr. Samba argued, pointing out that the disease is killing off the most productive portion of the workforce in Africa, and reducing life expectancy by up to 20 years, from 65 years about ten years ago to about 40 years now.

Among the consequences of the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa are a weakening productive base, a growing orphan population, further strains on already under-staffed and under-funded health services, and the loss of gains made in the health sector in the continent over the last three decades.

Dr. Samba said factors accounting for this grim situation include the wide practice of unprotected sex, high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and poor access to care and information.

He reiterated his earlier warning that "prevention is an effective insurance against HIV/AIDS."

According to WHO's 1998 World Health Report, AIDS is now the number one killer in Africa, and the fourth leading cause of death worldwide.

The Report, issued in May, says that AIDS caused 1,830,000 deaths in Africa in 1998 alone. This is twice as many deaths as is caused by malaria which has now been relegated to the number two position on the continent's roaster of deadly diseases.

Press Release: WHO/AFRO/PR/1999/030

WHO Will Succeed in Malaria Control - Dr. Samba 30 June 1999

The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Ebrahim M. Samba, has expressed optimism that WHO and its partners will succeed in their current effort to substantially reduce the human death toll and economic losses to Africa due to malaria.

Speaking Wednesday at the opening of a two-day meeting on the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) partnership in Harare, Dr. Samba listed four factors which, he said, will guarantee the success of the RBM project, especially in Africa.

These are vastly improved knowledge of the disease itself, the availability of "infinitely better tools" for malaria control, genuine involvement of Africans in control efforts, and commitment by Africa's political leadership to the Roll Back Malaria project.

Unlike previous anti-malaria efforts, RBM is an all-embracing initiative which seeks to mobilize and coordinate a global coalition including leaders from malaria-endemic countries, the WHO itself, UN agencies, NGOs, scientific communities and public and private sector organizations.

The RBM partnership, which is unique in international health, is led by WHO with its medical expertise, and draws from the special expertise of participating agencies and organizations, thus pooling resources to eliminate costly overlaps.

Dr. Samba stressed that the success of the RBM movement, and the partnership which drives it, will depend on the commitment, interest and strategic actions of national governments.

This in turn is dependent on the full support of WHO, and of concerned development partners, working in synergy to support national strategies that will yield the greatest possible benefits for people whose lives are affected by malaria.

Dr. Samba was also optimistic that by the end of the RBM project, health systems in African countries will have been sufficiently strengthened to tackle other health challenges.

In his remarks, the Manager of the Roll Back Malaria project, Dr. David Nabarro, called on the meeting to identify clear directions for the future. "We stand ready to serve and we look up to you to guide us on the way forward," he said.

Among other things, the two-day meeting is reviewing the implementation of RBM in Africa and how the partnership is working to support the project. It is also expected to agree ways through which national authorities can effectively coordinate actions and partners at the country level to roll back malaria.

WHO experts say almost all the 550 million people south of the Sahara are at risk from malaria which kills more than one million Africans yearly. Economic losses attributable to the disease were estimated at $2 billion in 1998, and projected to reach $3 billion by 2000.

Press Release: WHO/AFRO/PR/1999/032

Roll Back Malaria to Cost $2 Billion over 10 Years
6 July 1999

It will cost $2 billion to implement the World Health Organization's Roll Back Malaria (RBM) project over the next 10 years, according to a report on the second meeting of the RBM partnership which ended in Harare at the weekend.

The report, released on Tuesday, says that "there is an absolute shortage of funds for health in Africa," and calls on funding institutions to be more flexible in accommodating "cross-cutting initiatives" in the global fight against malaria.

It stresses the need for both short-term and longer-term mobilization strategies, and for governments and donors to jointly develop flexible and transparent funding mechanisms and reporting systems. The report adds that for the RBM partnership to produce sustainable results, adequate funding levels must be maintained, increased accountability and transparency should be the norm, while capacity-building should be continuous.

It also calls for the integration of malaria control activities with ongoing health sector development programmes and suggests that RBM could well serve as a lens to view and promote progress in health sector development in Africa.

On the progress made in rolling back malaria in Africa, the report says activities so far undertaken include: the development of a draft strategy and work plan; the development of advocacy materials and a framework for monitoring progress; the development of modalities for initiating RBM at the country level, and the development of communication linkages between global and regional partners.

According to the report, activities slated for implementation over the next two years include: the development of a framework for country-level implementation of RBM; identification of country needs and provision of appropriate resources for the intensification of priority health actions, and the institution of functional partnerships at the national and local levels in malaria-endemic countries.

Others are the establishment of effective mechanmisms for the involvement of community-level organizations in the RBM movement, and the incorporation of private sector bodies including the media, NGOs, professional associations and research groups in national and global partnerships.

The RBM partnership is a broad network of national governments, international and bilateral organizations, NGOs, the private sector and others contributing resources and skills to reduce the malaria burden across the globe. It was launched in New York in October 1998 by WHO, UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank, and formally established in Geneva two months later.

Effective drug regimen for preventing transmission of HIV

Family Health International
July 15, 1999

For more information: NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID conducts and supports research to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses such as HIV disease and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, asthma and allergies.

Press releases, fact sheets and other materials are available on the NIAID Web site (
Telephone contact: Office of Communications And Public Liaison (301) 402-1663

Durham, NC - Researchers Identify a Simple, Affordable Drug Regimen That is Highly Effective in Preventing HIV Infection in Infants of Mothers with the Disease.

A joint Uganda-U.S. study has found a highly effective and safe drug regimen for preventing transmission of HIV from an infected mother to her newborn that is more affordable and practical than any other examined to date. Interim results from the study, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), demonstrate that a single oral dose of the antiretroviral drug nevirapine (NVP) given to an HIV-infected woman in labor and another to her baby within three days of birth reduces the transmission rate by half compared to a similar short course of AZT. If implemented widely in developing countries, this intervention potentially could prevent some 300,000 to 400,000 newborns per year from beginning life infected with HIV.

"This extraordinary finding is the most recent in our efforts to bring an end to AIDS, not only in the United States but in countries around the world," says Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala. "American scientists along with our international partners are committed to developing treatments that not only work, but that are also feasible in other health care settings. These results achieve both those goals."

"This study represents the most promising advance to date toward the goal of finding strategies that can be used worldwide to prevent the spread of HIV from infected mothers to their infants," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health.

In an announcement from Kampala this morning, Ugandan officials hailed the finding. "This research provides real hope that we may be able to protect many of Africa's next generation from the ravages of AIDS," says Crispus Kiyonga, M.B.Ch.B., Uganda's Minister of Health. "We commend the collaborative effort of our country's scientists, led by Professor Francis Mmiro from Makerere University Faculty of Medicine, and their U.S. colleagues, led by Dr. Brooks Jackson from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine." Finding affordable interventions for developing countries is key to curtailing the global AIDS epidemic. In parts of the hardest-hit area, sub-Saharan Africa, up to 30 percent of pregnant women are infected with HIV, and 25 to 35 percent of their infants will be born infected. The UNAIDS estimates that approximately 1,800 HIV-infected babies are born every day in developing countries.

Unfortunately, the standard AZT regimen used to prevent perinatal HIV transmission in the United States is too expensive and impractical for widespread use in developing countries where many women may not receive prenatal care.

Based on average U.S. wholesale costs, the cost of the drug used in the nevirapine regimen in the current study is approximately 200 times cheaper than the long-course AZT used in the United States, and almost 70 times cheaper than a short course of AZT given to the mother during the last month of pregnancy - a regimen tested in Thailand by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reported effective in 1998.

The Uganda study investigators, part of the NIAID-supported HIV Prevention Trials Network (HIVNET), opened the trial two years ago at Mulago Hospital, affiliated with Makerere University, in Kampala, Uganda. They completed enrollment last April. All women entered into the study were in their ninth month of pregnancy. None had taken antiretroviral drugs while pregnant.

The study, known as HIVNET 012, compared the safety and efficacy of two different short-course regimens of antiviral drugs administered late in pregnancy. The women were assigned at random to receive either a 200-mg dose of oral nevirapine at the onset of labor, followed by a 2-mg/kg oral dose given to their babies within three days of birth; or a 600-mg dose of AZT at the onset of labor, and 300-mg doses every three hours thereafter during labor. The infants born to mothers in the AZT group received 4 mg/kg given twice daily for the first week of life. Both drugs appeared to be safe and well-tolerated.

Study design, data collection and analysis was provided by a team of researchers led by Dr. Thomas Fleming, a biostatistican at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community medicine in Seattle.

For the interim analysis, the study team looked at data from 618 mothers (308 receiving AZT and 310 receiving nevirapine) and their infants.

Nevirapine was markedly more effective. At 14 to 16 weeks of age, 13.1 percent of infants who received nevirapine were infected with HIV, compared with 25.1 percent of those in the AZT group.

"In this study, the short-course nevirapine regimen resulted in a 47 percent reduction in mother-to-infant HIV transmission compared with a short course of AZT. The implications of this study for developing countries, where 95 percent of the AIDS epidemic is occurring, are profound," says Brooks Jackson, M.D., the lead U.S. investigator on the trial.

Long-term follow-up of both the mothers and their babies remains a high priority to assess any late drug toxicities as well as long-term survival. The mothers and their children will continue to be actively followed until the babies are 18 months old. This period is critical to establish the efficacy of the intervention because even if a baby is born HIV-free, he or she may acquire the virus during breastfeeding. The data analyzed so far cover only the first three months of the newborn's life. Ugandan and U.S. investigators will soon launch a follow-up study to evaluate the efficacy of nevirapine administered to the mother during labor and to the newborns for a longer period of time.

Breastfeeding is practiced widely in developing countries. Most studies indicate that the rate of HIV transmission via breastfeeding is highest in the first few months of life. No intervention has yet been shown to prevent HIV transmission through breast milk other than not breastfeeding.

The single-dose nevirapine regimen to mother and infant substantially lowers the cost barrier that has kept many countries from adopting drug strategies that prevent perinatal HIV transmission. Still, access to other health care services required to implement this regimen, such as counseling and voluntary HIV testing, are beyond available resources of many developing countries. But if further research upholds nevirapine's good safety record, the investigators say that potentially all pregnant women who live in areas of high HIV prevalence could receive the drug during labor, even in the absence of an established HIV diagnosis.

In the United States and other industrialized countries, many HIV-infected pregnant women already take combination drug regimens that include AZT. A study now being conducted in the United States and Europe is evaluating if adding nevirapine to standard treatment regimens will have any extra benefit in preventing perinatal HIV transmission in these countries. For pregnant women who do not know their HIV status until they begin labor, the nevirapine regimen provides a last-minute prevention option.

Nevirapine, developed by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, is a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, and is in a different class of antiviral drugs than AZT but works against the same HIV target enzyme that is critical for the virus to infect new cells. It can be easily stored at room temperature. Besides being inexpensive and potent, nevirapine is rapidly absorbed and transferred across the placenta to the infant, and it breaks down slowly. For these reasons, it was thought that even a single dose to the mother and infant might provide enough protection to the baby during the time of exposure to HIV at birth. In March 1996, nevirapine was licensed in the United States for treatment of HIV infection in adults. AZT, made by Glaxo Wellcome, was first approved in the United States to treat AIDS in 1987. In August 1994, AZT received an additional indication for use in preventing perinatal HIV transmission.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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