The Global Crisis: AIDS in Tanzania

More than 90% of people living with HIV/AIDS are in the developing world, most of whom live in Africa, followed by Asia and Latin America. In an effort to increase awareness of the HIV epidemic in these regions, PI Perspective will feature short profiles of the epidemic in some of these countries. In this issue, PI Perspective looks at the United Republic of Tanzania.

In recent years, the nations of sub-Saharan Africa have experienced rapid and alarming increases in HIV infection rates. In Tanzania, the AIDS epidemic has primarily affected urban areas, where nearly 10% of the adult population is HIV positive. Unlike many other African countries, the current spread of HIV/AIDS in rural communities is relatively low (almost 3%), though that number is also growing.

Heterosexual sex accounts for the majority of HIV infections in Tanzania. The highest rates have occurred among female sex workers, with prevalence rising to 50% in 1993 in the capital, Dar es Salaam. In other urban areas, more than 60% of female sex workers are HIV positive. Other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) further fuel the epidemic among sex workers and their clients by making it easier to spread HIV. HIV prevalence among men with STDs is above 20% in urban areas.

Mother-to-child transmission is also an increasing problem. In many areas, upwards of 15% of pregnant women aged 15-49 are HIV positive. The advances in anti-HIV therapy that have allowed for the dramatic reduction in mother-to-child transmission in the US and Western Europe are not yet available in resource-poor Tanzania. Moreover, it is estimated that HIV transmission through breast-feeding accounts for approximately one quarter to a third of infections in infants. The lack of alternatives to breast-feeding increases HIV transmission rates among infants and children.

The spread of HIV has also contributed greatly to the re-emergence of tuberculosis in Tanzania. Tuberculosis is one of the most common opportunistic infections, as well as the leading cause of death among people with AIDS in Tanzania.

There are several factors that influence the shape of the HIV epidemic in Tanzania. Poverty, migration, and stigma are a few of the factors that hinder the people of Tanzania from protecting themselves and others from HIV infection. Poor families and communities struggle to purchase drugs, medical services, and funeral services. Yet, in spite of the epidemic's magnitude and the limited resources available to slow its course, there is a growing effort to care for people with HIV/AIDS and prevent the spread of the disease.

WAMATA, a Swahili acronym for "people in the fight against AIDS," is one important example of Tanzania's grassroots response to HIV. Building on the country's strong sense of community, WAMATA provides psychosocial and material support for entire families affected by HIV/AIDS. Last year, Project Inform's staff was fortunate to meet WAMATA's Founding Director, Theresa Kaijage. "My role is to give hope rather than despair," Kaijage said. The hope WAMATA provides comes in many forms -- from a place to safely obtain information on HIV, to counseling, home care, financial, legal and material support. WAMATA also provides a forum to engage in advocacy for the rights and needs of people living with HIV and their loved ones.

There are many worthy organizations like WAMATA that need financial support, equipment, medications and other materials. We urge our readers to consider contributing to such organizations. Project Inform is working in partnership with WAMATA to raise funds that will help ensure that they remain in touch with a vital network of activists and educators world wide.

For further information about making a donation on behalf of WAMATA, please call or email David Evans at 415-558-8669 x215 or

For further information about WAMATA in particular, readers may contact Theresa Kaijage at the following email address:

Back to the Project Inform Perspective April 2000 contents page.