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HIV/AIDS and health care crisis in developing countries  

Since the time HIV/AIDS was discovered in the early 1980s, the pandemic has spread rapidly worldwide, especially in developing countries. According to UNAIDS, in 2006 39.5 million people in the world were living with HIV/AIDS, a figure 2.4 million more than the 2004 figure. The report also indicates that about two thirds of all people in the world living with HIV/AIDS (i.e. 24.7 million) are in sub-Saharan Africa. Efforts to fight this pandemic in developing nations are, however, being hampered by shortage of health workers, inadequate capacity (trained care givers and infrastructure), existence of weak health care systems and insufficient medical supplies, amongst others.

Shortage of health care workers is an acute problem in developing countries today. The most notable causes of this problem are emigration of doctors and nurses to industrialized countries in search for better salaries and working conditions, death of health personnel from HIV/AIDS related illnesses, and developing nations’ lack of capacity and funds to train adequate health care workers. Pervasiveness of HIV/AIDS related diseases, malaria, and TB have also exacerbated the problem.

The shortage of health workers is seen primarily in Africa and rural parts of Asia, where many of them are migrating to wealthy nations to seek jobs. The countries with the largest health worker shortages include India, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, most of West Africa and Peru. A CNN report of August 3, 2004 indicates an increase in the number of certified nurses from former British colonies such as Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, Botswana, and South Africa appearing in the British register of nurses, leaving about 60 percent of nursing positions unfilled in some of these countries. The New York Times (June 27, 2007) also reported the existence of acute shortage of health care workers in Africa. It reported that Rwanda has only 500 doctors that serve 10 million people, resulting into a doctor to patient ratio of one to 20,000. The paper also alluded to the fact that in Rwanda the majority of people will not see a physician in their lifetime.

Developing nations that have been hit by HIV/AIDS pandemic are also facing shortage of health facilities. Most developing nations have poor and/or shortage of health infrastructures, insufficient medical equipments, and shortage of drugs and supplies. These challenges are worsened by existence of corruption in the health care systems of some countries. This makes few drugs and medical equipments that were available in public hospitals and clinics to vanish and find their way to private hospitals, pharmacies and drug stores. As a result, poor people who cannot afford to pay at private hospitals and clinics, or purchase drugs from pharmacies, are the ones who suffer. The poor in these countries do not have health insurance with which to access quality health care from private health care providers.

Persistence of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (especially a virulent new form of TB) and malaria are among the major threats today. These diseases have claimed, and continue to claim, many lives of people worldwide. A virulent new form of TB, which is drug resistant, poses a major threat to the general public in this era in which people travel from one part of the world to another with much ease.

The number of people living with HIV/AIDS increased from eight million in 1990 to about 40 million today. Sixty two percent of HIV/AIDS cases are in sub-Saharan Africa. In this region, according to NextAids report, an African child loses a parent to AIDS in every 14 seconds, and out of 15 million orphans in Africa, only 10 percent are receiving some kind of support.


What you can do to help

·  Lobby Congress to consider increasing PEPFAR funds and include in it a component of capacity building or training for health care workers in developing countries.

·  Advocate for cancellation of debts of low-income countries so that that money should be put into social services such as the health sector.

·  Ask governments of industrialized countries to stop or reduce their dependency of doctors and nurses from developing nations.

·  Developing nations should be asked to end corruption in their health care systems



·  Health care in southern countries: Mortal shortage (Oxfam France)

·  Lobby for change of U.S. global AIDS policies and funding (Global AIDS Alliance)

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