Health care for all

The health news - with major implications for Africans living on the continent - that made the headlines in 2011.

In November came the news that the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria was in a financial crisis, because of declining donor commitments and failure by donors to honor existing commitments. The Fund’s board cancelled Round 11 of its funding applications, which was supposed to provide money for 2011 to 2013.

The Global Fund crisis and the threat to continuity and expansion of ARV treatment is particularly tragic, because in May came the news that early treatment of people with HIV massively reduces their infectiousness – for the first time, pointing the way to a potential end to the HIV epidemic. This emerged from the results of a trial which found that sex with an HIV positive person on ARV treatment with an undetectable viral load is as safe as using condoms.

On World Aids Day came some better news – US President Barack Obama announced the U.S. would double the pace of scale up for funding for ARV treatment through PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. This followed an encouraging speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in November, on US commitment to fighting AIDS.

While it is happening outside the continent, the ongoing case by pharma giant Novartis in the Indian Supreme Court is of vital importance to health in Africa and across the globe. Novartis is challenging Indian patent law over the patentability of an anti-cancer drug. Indian law does not allow patents for trivial changes to an existing drug. Making minor changes to the form of a patented drug is a tactic big pharma companies commonly use elsewhere, to extend the life of patents indefinitely: so-called ‘ever-greening’ of patents. If Novartis succeeds, India may end up granting far more patents than required under international trade rules, with huge implications for the availability of affordable medicines for billions of people worldwide.

This year saw increased focus on Non-Communicable Diseases, with a UN summit on NCDs held in New York in September. Shortly before the summit, research reports released by the WHO and World Economic Forum put the cost to Africa of NCDs at nearly $500-billion a year. There was huge lobbying around the summit by business interests – particularly by the food industry, seeking to limit disease prevention measures that would harm their profits.

A case brought against the Namibian government by HIV positive women claiming they were sterilized against their will, wrapped up in Windhoek earlier in the year, although judgment is still pending. Meanwhile, several reports emerged in countries such as South Africa and Kenya, indicating the practice of forced or coerced sterilization of HIV positive women is widespread.

Also in November, the Malawian Parliament finally recognized that women have the right to inherit from the marital estate. In the past, after the death of her husband, a woman and her children were often left with nothing, no matter the length of the marriage and contributions to the estate. This is a huge health issue not only because many women have been left destitute after the death of male partners from AIDS – but also because the resulting economic insecurity leaves women much more vulnerable to contracting HIV.

The deaths of two women during childbirth in hospitals in Uganda focused attention on the dire lack of basic maternal care in Uganda, and in Africa as a whole. A Ugandan NGO took the government to court, in what may be the first legal test of an African government’s obligation to provide basic maternal care.

November 14 was the tenth Anniversary of the Doha Declaration. NGOs used the occasion to highlight the Declaration, which aimed to establish a balance between WTO pharmaceutical patent rules and public health. The fight to preserve the Doha Declaration’s safeguards is crucial, as a range of free trade agreements (FTAs) under negotiation behind closed doors threaten to impose stricter patent rules at the expense of public health.

Finally, the campaign for a small levy on financial transactions gained ground as several world leaders expressed their support for the so-called ‘Robin Hood tax’ — South Africa’s Jacob Zuma among them. If it is adopted, the challenge will then be to ensure that a good chunk of the billions of dollars generated by the tiny tax get is spent on global health and development. European leaders seem to want to use it to plug domestic deficits.

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.