Heading to Africa . . . we’ll send postcards and bring back stories

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mapzambiasaCenter for Global Health Policy staff will leave for a week in Zambia and South Africa tomorrow. Hosting four congressional staffers, we’re heading to two places hit hardest by HIV and tuberculosis: Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and Durban. Each country has important stories to tell about the impact of these health crises and the responses to them. We plan to pass those on to our readers, updating you with a few words and pictures as we go along, and bringing back stories of greater depth that we hope will inform you about the situation those countries face today, what is working, and what is yet to be done.

We’ll start in Zambia, home to a little more than 13 million people, where an estimated one of every seven adults lives with HIV, where nearly 82,000 people get the virus each year, where more than 48,000 people were diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2011, and where average life expectancy hovers around 49 years. It also is a place where commitment from donors, government and community has brought hope: between 2001 and 2011 the rate of new HIV infections dropped by 58 percent. Still, gaps in resources, training, infrastructure and human rights continue to present obstacles to health there.

We will leave Zambia for South Africa, home to the highest number of people living with HIV in the world, and to Durban, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, where it is estimated at least 25 percent of the population lives with HIV. KwaZulu-Natal also is home to one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the world, and about 3,000 people there are diagnosed with drug-resistant strains every year. It is a place where after years of neglect and efforts stymied by denial, progress has brought promise: Between 2008 and 2011 HIV testing of infants exposed to the virus rose steeply, while the rate of infections among infants dropped. Testing for adults has risen as well, and in the last 12 months 470,000 people have been newly initiated on antiretroviral treatment. Progress also has brought challenges to South Africa: it is the first country slated for “transition” to “country ownership” of efforts to control these epidemics. We are interested in seeing the challenges that will bring, first hand.

In both countries, we’ll visit labs and health centers where some of the world’s leading scientific studies are taking place now, examine new methods and questions related to disease prevention and treatment, hear from physician scientists where science is leading, and witness the challenges these settings present. We will hear from civil society representatives and people who need health services.

We look forward to telling you what we find.

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