Professional Jeweler Archive: AIDS: Africa's Much Bigger Problem

December 2002


AIDS: Africa's Much Bigger Problem

Congratulations to members of the World Diamond Council, who labored two years to help in the birth of the Kimberley Scheme, a government certification system that aims to keep conflict diamonds out of the diamond pipeline (see p. 18 for the full story).

But as the industry focuses on conflict victims, Africa is grappling with a problem that claims far more victims: AIDS. Since I last wrote about Africa and AIDS, the problem has grown sadly worse, and the world’s effort to get treatment and prevention programs to the 29 million infected Africans is advancing at a maddeningly slow pace. The United Nations-initiated Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria has collected only $2 billion of the estimated $10 billion experts say is needed to halt the spread of AIDS and other diseases in the developing world.

The U.S. government has been shockingly stingy, contributing only $500,000, though based on size and wealth we should contribute at least $2 billion, say most experts. The Bush administration has acknowledged that chaos due to AIDS makes Africa vulnerable to fostering terrorism. But earlier this year the president vetoed a bill that would have allocated $500 million for work to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The most frightening issue for the jewelry and gem industries is how many of the countries that produce the raw materials used to fashion jewelry are the most profoundly affected. Botswana, the world’s largest producer of diamonds by value, has the highest prevalance of HIV and AIDS in the world – almost 36% of adults are infected. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal estimates Botswana’s economic growth could be 30% lower than it would be otherwise over the next 10 years because workers will contribute only five productive years of labor to the economy. Other diamond-rich countries, including South Africa and Namibia, are suffering too. Very few of the infected adults can afford the antiretroviral drugs they need.

De Beers has risen to the occasion, last year by working jointly with the government of Botswana to pay 90% of the cost for antiretroviral drugs for Debswana employees and their spouses or life partners. (Debswana is the diamond mining venture owned by De Beers and the government.) In January 2003, De Beers will expand its offer of retrovirals to all employees worldwide. The company also provides HIV/AIDS education and awareness programs, access to voluntary counseling and tests, tuberculosis control, employee assistance programs and occupational health efforts.

It’s also important to recognize the Jewelers Charity Fund, which has raised $800,000 over the past two years to fight mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. These countries also continue to be accused of hosting the trading of diamonds to rebels or terrorists, according to U.N. and other sources.

What can you do to help? Write to your congressional representatives and ask them to pressure the government to contribute more to the Global Fund. Keep up your contributions to the Jewelers Charity Fund at (561) 744-3222. And consider holding in-store fund-raisers for organizations that work hard to help Africa, such as Doctors Without Borders, (212) 679-6800,

– Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications