The continent of Africa is home to nearly 15% of the world’s population, and an incredibly diverse range of cultures and languages. After decades of colonial rule in the 20th century, today nearly every country in Africa possesses a democratically elected leader, and its economic power continues to grow. The World Economic Forum reported that Africa’s economy grew by 6.2% in 2007, and according to the World Bank, the poverty rate in Africa fell from 58% in 1996 to 50% in 2005. After being hit fairly hard by the worldwide economic recession, according to the African Economic Outlook report, African economies are once again projected to grow, to 4.5% in 2010 and to 5.2% in 2011. More and more countries are paying attention to the potential of Africa: as of 2008, China’s trading with African nations reached a value of $100 billion, and India has announced $500 million in development projects in Africa, while doubling its financial credit available to African countries.
However, despite these encouraging economic signs, the continent remains plagued by poverty and instability. In 2008, the World Bank found that 390 million Africans lived on less than $1.25 per day, and all 23 countries found to have “Low Human Development” by the Human Development Index are located in Africa. War continues to rage in the Congo, where violence against women is rampant, and in Sudan, more than 2 million cannot return to their homes because of the genocide in the western region of Darfur. HIV/AIDS continues to wreak havoc on populations across the continent, killing 1.4 million people in Africa in 2008, while 1.8 million children are currently living with HIV. Altogether, it is estimated that 22.4 million adults and children in Africa are living with HIV.
The United States and Canada are constantly engaging with African nations to both improve the public health situation, and invest in their growing economies. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. provides assistance to 47 countries in Africa, totaling approximately $28 billion in aid funds, while Canada provides over $2 billion in assistance. Africa is the focus of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which in Fiscal Year 2009 treated 2,485,300 HIV/AIDS patients and provided 3,620,140 orphans and vulnerable children with support.
All of these programs are in the hands of Congress, and it’s important that even in a global recession, we do not retract our commitments to fighting disease and instability in Africa.