MP sees "harrowing" impact of HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics in Africa
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has spoken of the “harrowing” impact of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) epidemics which he witnessed on a visit to Kenya last week.
Mr Herbert was one of four MPs visiting the country as part of a delegation organised by the charity RESULTS. Kenya has one of the highest levels of TB in Africa and has experienced a seven-fold increase in the disease since 1990.
Last month the World Health Organisation declared TB an emergency in the Africa region, killing more than half a million people a year. Across the world, TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as a cause of illness and death of adults - but the two diseases are linked, since people with HIV/AIDS are more prone to infection.
TB can be cured for as little as £7 per patient, but less than half of people with the infectious disease in Kenya have access to the treatment. AIDS should no longer be a death sentence, but anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs are in desperately short supply. In one area which the MPs visited, a quarter of the population had HIV/AIDS, of which over 13,000 needed ARV treatment - but only 343 people were actually receiving the life-saving drugs.
Mr Herbert commented: "We travelled to parts of Kenya that tourists don't get to see. We witnessed hospitals with people sharing beds, ‘clinics' which were no more than filthy shacks, and a slum in Nairobi in which open sewers ran in the streets. In the worst-hit areas the average life expectancy is under 40 for men and 44 for women. It was pretty harrowing.
"But as well as being exposed to the scale of the problem, we also saw things which gave us great hope - how overseas aid programmes are helping to recruit medical staff and get drugs to local communities, and information campaigns are encouraging people to get tested and treated. No-one should ever say that these problems are intractable - millions of lives could be saved through expanded public health programmes".
Britain is a major contributor of aid to Africa, both through the Global Fund to fight TB, AIDS and malaria, and directly through programmes funded by the Department for International Development.
Mr Herbert added: "This was an incredibly intensive trip, with long days and extensive travel by road and air to different parts of Kenya. It wasn't always enjoyable, but it was immensely worthwhile. It made me appreciate how fortunate we in Britain are - and how much more needs to be done to make the Millennium Development Goals (to halve extreme poverty and combat HIV/AIDS by 2015) a reality".
Notes for Editors
1. Other MPs on the delegation were Andrew George (Liberal Democrat), John Barrett (Liberal Democrat) and Julie Morgan (Labour). The purpose of the trip was to inform the MPs about the global epidemics of TB and HIV, the challenge faced by African countries in fighting the diseases, and the effectiveness of overseas aid programmes.
2. RESULTS (www.results.org.uk) is an international grassroots lobby group "working to create the public and political will to end hunger and the worst aspects of poverty."