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African Ministers Urge Laws to Control AIDS

July 26, 1987

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Foreign ministers of the Organization of African Unity Saturday urged members to adopt legislation to control AIDS, but sources said resolutions were more likely on South Africa and economic issues.

AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is a sensitive issue for African countries which feel their continent has been unjustly branded as the birthplace of the disease, for which there is no known cure.

The OAU Council of Ministers also advised the OAU’s 50 member states to work with the World Health Organization to create special teams to fight the spread of the disease with coordinated action.

Sylvestre Nzanzimana, OAU assistant secretary-general, said the council made the recommendation after considering a report from a meeting of African health ministers held in April in Cairo. ″The ministers noted with consternation that this scourge is affecting 23 African countries,″ Nzanzimana, of Rwanda, said. ″The conference stressed the need to address the problem.″

He gave no examples of the type of laws envisaged.

African states have reported more than 3,000 cases of AIDS. But WHO officials fear the figure is much higher. Among about a dozen African countries that have not reported AIDS cases is Zaire, the central African nation described by some scientists as the epicenter of the world AIDS epidemic.

AIDS is a disease in which a virus attacks the body’s immune system, leaving victims susceptible to a wide variety of infections and cancers.

As of July 20, AIDS has been diagnosed in 38,808 people in the United States and claimed 22,328 lives, said the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. In November 1986, a World Health Organization official said there were about 100,000 known cases of AIDS worldwide.

A million people are thought to have been affected by AIDS-related symptoms and 5 million to 10 million people have been exposed to an AIDS virus, most of them in the United States and Africa. WHO officials estimated there would be 500,000 to 3 million AIDS cases by 1991, and that the number of people carrying the virus could increase to 100 million.

AIDS is most often transmitted through sexual contact. Other means of transmission include transfusions of tainted blood or blood products, and the sharing of contaminated hypodermic needles or syringes by drug abusers. AIDS can also be passed from mother to child at or before birth.

In the United States and Europe, AIDS has so far been largely confined to male homosexuals, hemophiliacs and intravenous drug abusers. In Africa, it is believed to be transmitted primarily through heterosexual contact.

Sources at Saturday’s ministerial meeting said it was unlikely a resolution concerning AIDS would be submitted to heads of state and government who gather Monday for the annual OAU summit.

″They are most concerned with the South African situation and Africa’s debt crisis,″ said a north African delegate who spoke on condition of anonymity. The ministers on Saturday were ending a weeklong meeting to formulate the summit agenda.

Conference sources said draft resolutions would include calls for increased support for guerrillas fighting South Africa’s white-led government and for the international community to help repair Africa’s economy and reschedule its collective $200 billion debt.

By law and custom, apartheid in South Africa establishes a racially segregated society in which the 25.6 million blacks have no vote in national affairs. The 5 million whites control the economy and maintain separate districts, schools and health services.

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