January 2009

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Africa’s Ongoing Health Crisis

by Dr. Patricia Depew

“When Jesus landed [by boat] and saw a large crowd [on shore], he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14, NIV). He taught His followers to care for and to have compassion on those in need. A section of the world that urgently needs our prayers and caring is sub-Saharan Africa. The peoples of this area endure the world’s heaviest burden of disease despite national, regional and international efforts. Here are examples of the health problems they face:

Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome,” commonly known as AIDS, is a deadly virus that affects white blood cells called T lymphocytes (T cells) causing the body’s defense to weaken against other diseases and bacteria it encounters. In 2007 there were 1.7 million new cases of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa bringing the total worldwide number of people living with AIDS to 22.5 million Of these, 13 million are women, usually between 15-24 years of age, and 2.2 million are children, the majority of which were infected from their mothers who carry the disease. Over 1.6 million people died in 2007 from AIDS. This ongoing epidemic has left some 12 million children orphaned. AIDS has devastated sub-Saharan Africa’s education, industry, agriculture, transport, human resources, and the economy in general.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the average incidence of tuberculosis (TB) in Africa has more than doubled between 1990 and 2005, from 149 to 343 per 100,000 population, and it continues to grow. There are several contributing causes. HIV-positive people are 50 times more likely than HIV-negative people to develop TB. Without proper treatment, 90 percent of them usually die within months. Other factors are lack of drugs used to treat TB, resistance to the TB drugs and poor general health, especially among refugees.

The majority of those with malaria are in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated one million people die each year from this preventable disease, and 90 percent of these deaths are in Africa, primarily among young children.

Sleeping sickness; river blindness; yellow fever; cholera, tick bite fever, Ebola, and the Marburg virus are all common in Africa, but not in the developed world. There has also been a steady increase of polio, a disease that was once on the verge of being extinguished. Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) have a devastating impact on millions of people in Africa. These include intestinal worm infections, hookworm, river blindness, parasite transmitted diseases and trachoma, a preventable bacterial eye infection, which affects 84 million people globally in undeveloped areas and has visually impaired or blinded almost eight million people.

Making Matters Worse…

Thirty-two sub-Saharan African countries are among the world’s 48 least developed nations, and 80 percent of the people are in the low socioeconomic category. Many African countries are also burdened with crushing debt, crumbling infrastructures and rampant corruption. Africa’s health problems are further aggravated by emergencies and natural disasters such as drought and famine. Other major factors include inadequate access to safe water, sanitation, nutritious foods, essential drugs, and education. In addition, noncommunicable diseases are increasing, especially diabetes and hypertension, due to an increase in their associated risk factors: cigarette smoking, use of alcohol, obesity, and sedentary lifestyles.

More people are malnourished in sub-Saharan Africa this decade than in the 1990s. Starvation and malnutrition kill nearly six million children a year. With a population of 788 million (doubled since 1975) the African countries can barely produce enough food to feed 50 percent of their people. The cause is not because of lack of land or water. Most African governments have not encouraged their people to farm. Other causes are soil degradation and the lack of using up-to-date farming practices to produce needed food. Because they have had to import food, the national debts have continued to mount.

In most of rural Africa, it is common for men to work far from home for months at a time. Instead of being faithful to their wives while they are away, the men, many with Christian backgrounds, visit prostitutes, and often contract AIDS in the process. Instead of loving their wives and laying down their lives for them as the Bible instructs husbands to do, the men do what pleases their flesh, and their families suffer for it. Though the epidemic has been spreading for many years, the men have shown little willingness to change this destructive behavior. This being the case, the next best thing is to rely on medications.

What Is Being Done

A primary treatment for the HIV/AIDS virus is Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. These drugs inhibit the reproduction of HIV T-cells in the immune system and prevent the entry of the virus into healthy cells. However, they are not a cure or a vaccine. They have toxic side effects and patients receiving them often have to switch the drugs as their systems become resistant to them. Currently, the annual cost of ARV drugs in Africa has been greatly reduced from $1,200 to $300 or less. Though the cost has dropped considerably, ARVs are still not available for most Africans, mainly because they are too expensive. Fewer than one in five Africans in need are receiving the drugs. Less than five percent of HIV-positive children are receiving treatment, and there is a need for palatable ARV drugs for children.

There has been tremendous financial support from developed countries, non-government and individual contributors. AIDS prevention education has made tremendous progress in the last few years. There are now more efforts to check blood transfusions for HIV and to improve the care in the handling of needles and syringes. There are efforts to stop prostitution. Much more work is needed to take care of the millions of orphan children affected by AIDS. The church is gradually becoming more effective in working with necessary programs.

Encouraging progress in the treatment of malaria has been reported by World Vision throughout these African countries. They have confirmed that a combination of treatments such as artemisinin and countermeasures like mosquito netting and indoor residual spraying of insecticides have resulted in the reduction of over 50 percent of malaria cases. The malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS02D, has been proven to offer protection. More patients with TB are being effectively treated, but the people need further efforts.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) can be effectively treated and controlled for a fraction of the cost of other diseases. Recently the Ministry of Health in Rwanda in collaboration with several partners launched a campaign to treat one million children for NTD’s at a cost of about 50 cents per treatment. Improvement was noted in almost all the children because of the treatments.

There are more short-term programs available to train Africans to fill the serious shortage of medical staff workers. Community development programs are working to motivate the people to raise their own food, implement better sanitary methods regarding clean water and the handling of human waste. Many governmental and non-governmental agencies, including a large number of Christian organizations, are contributing funds to provide emergency food. Wherever possible some groups are providing seed, farming instruction and tools to Africans so they can increase their yields. A revolutionary and cheap highly nutritious food product that has saved thousands of children, especially in Niger, is “Plumpy’nut.”

Let’s Pray!
  • Africa is in crisis and we need to be diligent in our prayers and support. Pray that African Christians will grow strong in their faith so that they can bring comfort to the suffering people, open the way for the cleansing of souls and help others to hunger for God’s righteousness and to follow His commandments. In Psalm 111:10 we read, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” This is vital if the African peoples are to receive healing from their suffering.
  • Pray for the revival of the African Church. Though “Christianity” is the prominent religion of choice among most people in southern and eastern Africa, the Church is tainted by unbiblical beliefs and practices regarding spirit worship and sexual practices. Pray that thousands of African men will come to the Lord and begin the process of healing Africa by being faithful to their wives and to the One True God.
  • Pray that millions of African children will receive the help they need, especially those orphaned by AIDS.
  • Pray that the political corruption and civil wars will soon end. Pray that African leaders will turn to God and provide justice for their people in all areas of need. Pray for wisdom by outside sources so that their efforts will produce the best result in motivating the African governments and people to correct their problems.

 

From the Editor

by Keith Carey

When I was in South Africa about 17 years ago, I was amazed at how physically strong people were. I remember a little girl who saw me jogging up a hill, and joined me just for fun. By the time we got to the top, I was perspiring, but not she! I saw a middle-aged woman carry a suitcase on her head for over four miles without taking a break. I observed as well that, when given the right situation, Africans have a very healthy diet.

Add Satan to the equation, and you have sickness and death. The first Protestant missionaries who went to east Africa about 100 years ago often carried their belongings in coffins, knowing that malaria would probably take their lives within two years.

Today, there is still malaria in Africa, though there are enough medical resources to eliminate this scourge. HIV/AIDS continues to destroy families in places where the men work far from home, contract AIDS from sex workers, and bring the disease home to their wives. Though there are drugs to inhibit the symptoms of AIDS, the promiscuous behavior that causes it is still active primarily in southern and eastern Africa, even where there is a strong witness.

As we pray for health issues this month, we will intercede for efforts by SIM (Serving In Mission) Int’l. and YWAM to eradicate AIDS and other diseases. These efforts need our prayers, and we should applaud them. Still, we should pray that the men of these highly churched areas would take their rightful place as “husbands,” meaning protectors and nurturers of their wives and children. When filled with the Holy Spirit, men will have the self control to be faithful to their wives and to do what is best for their families.