Monday, December 15, 2014


While the deadly Ebola virus outbreak continued to cast its malevolent shadow over international headlines we commemorated World AIDS day last week.

Lest we forget about 30 years ago when AIDS first hit the headlines the doomsayers were gleefully predicting the end of the world. The disease, characterized by a wasting to nothingness of the human body, struck horror in communities and cut through whole populations for lack of information on how to prevent or treat it.

HIV, the virus that causes a breakdown in the human immune system and therefore makes one susceptible to disease, was particularly scary because it was transmitted mainly through sexual contact.

This was scary because it fed off our natural instinct to perpetuate the human specie. In fact I remember some sections warning that this disease would lead to the extinction of the human race in a few generations.

It is no coincidence then, that there has been a boom in various religious movements especially on our continent as people grappling with poverty while being stalked by AIDS have fallen back on the Church to strengthen their moral fortitude.

Others pointing to our poor health services predicted that Africa's economies were going to be dealt a death blow as large swathes of our populations would drop like flies.

That seems like a long time ago now. While there have been serious advances in our understanding and our ability to combat HIV, the virus has not sat around waiting to be picked off.

At least in Uganda, from being a disease that predominantly preys on the youthful and most productive segments of society, efforts to roll it back have been hurt by recent trends that show that it is showing up among older people, while continuing to affect the youth.

However serious advances in our understanding of the deadly disease and our ability to treat it continue to be made. Scientists are continuously finding more effective means to reduce the immunity suppression that the virus triggers, with a single doze treatment that will boost immunity for months imminent and work on a vaccine in advanced stages.

But incredibly too, Africa, while coming to terms with the epidemic has enjoyed its greatest burst of economic activity and seems poised to be the next frontier of world development.

The continent's economy has more than doubled during the duration of the AIDS epidemic. Although this has happened in bursts and not been evenly spread among the population, it has dispelled some of the gloom and doom surrounding Africa's prospects

Ebola of course is a more lethal disease, in the speed in which it has spread and also because it is more contagious, making it more likely that sufferers may be isolated from badly needed treatment.

It was announced that the death toll from the year-old out break hit the 7000 mark and that the original sites of the disease continue to see increasing number of infections, suggesting that the haemoragic fever has not yet run its course.

"The history of epidemics shows that they have come with concentration of human populations. But unlike the outbreaks that accompanied the renaissance and industrial revolutions, this time around improved communication will ensure that these outbreaks while just as deadly to those who come into immediate contact, their devastation will be short lived. Little consolation for the affected, but makes it possible to predict that for the human race even this will come to pass....

But also what we can expect is that in coming years there will be a proliferation of these epidemics on the continent. Thankfully, as with all evolutionary processes those that survive learn, adapt and are readier for subsequent attacks.

Uganda, which was the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic used the experience to fight off three Ebola attacks and is now a significant contributor in the fight against the current outbreak.

Our warm climate, uninterrupted by cold winters, means disease carrying organisms can survive and thrive in our midst. On the one hand they can get stronger as they spread among populations but also through continued contact our natural human processes can develop some immunity.

It is no surprise that researchers are finding that with time some strains of the AIDS virus are less potent than others. The body is fighting back. While not at the speed we might want, the body, which has withstood constant attacks through out the history of the human race, is in full survival mode.

The point is, that while we shouldn't let down our guard against Ebola, seeing as it has fallen off the international headlines, it shall be overcome. Just in time for the next outbreak.

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