The Scarlet Letters: HIV and Adolescent Life in Africa

The Atlantic has just published my piece about a generation of Africans that is growing up with HIV and the challenges posed in an era where the virus is no longer a death-sentence, but a chronic, contagious disease.

The last time I was in Kampala, I met a brother and sister who had contracted HIV from their mother. The boy, whom I will call Peter (I’ve also changed the names of his friends and family), was just two days shy of his 16th birthday, and betrayed no visible signs of sickness. When I was introduced to him, in the Uganda offices of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, not far from the city center, he was wearing his school uniform, a dark- green sweater over a white collared shirt. He looked a little bookish, with a round face, thin wire-rimmed glasses, and hair cropped tight to his skull.

I sat with Peter at the corner of a long conference table, and he quietly told me his case history. He’d been sick often as a child, he said, fighting off fevers, diarrhea, painful blisters, and hacking coughs. But it wasn’t until he was 10 that he learned that he was infected with HIV. His mother, then expecting her sixth child, had tested positive during a prenatal HIV test and brought her children in to be examined. In Uganda, patients qualify for anti retroviral treatment when their CD4 count, a rough measure of the health of the immune system, falls below 250. Peter’s clocked in at 54. He was immediately started on medication, a cocktail of pills taken twice a day.

With treatment, he remembers, his health improved quickly and dramatically. But then, at age 13, the markers of his illness returned: diarrhea, fevers, vomiting. While we spoke, he pulled up the sleeves of his sweater to show me where the rashes had come back. “These are scars from them,” he said. “They come like sores, too many sores. When you scratch it, there comes a wound.”

Read the rest here.

The Other Side of Carbon Trading

Fortune ran this piece of mine on carbon trading in Uganda.

You can find it here as well as archived below:

August 30, 2007
The Other Side of Carbon Trading
Planting trees in Uganda to offset greenhouse-gas emissions in Europe seemed like a good idea – until farmers were evicted from their land to make room for a forest.

By Stephan Faris

Planting trees in Mount Elgon National Park in eastern Uganda seemed like a project that would benefit everyone. The Face Foundation, a nonprofit group established by Dutch power companies, would receive carbon credits for reforesting the park’s perimeter. It would then sell the credits to airline passengers wanting to offset their emissions, reinvesting the revenues in further tree planting. The air would be cleaner, travelers would feel less guilty and Ugandans would get a larger park.

But to the farmers who once lived just inside the park, the project has been anything but a boon. They have been fighting to get their land back since being evicted in the early 1990s and have pressed their case with lawsuits.

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Calling All Healers

This article ran on the use of traditional healers in the fight against AIDS was published in Time Magazine and is archived below.

July 16, 2006
Calling All Healers
African nations with few M.D.s ask traditional medicine men to pitch in on the fight against AIDS.

By Stephan Faris

Alenga – When Americans think about the problem of getting modern medical care to the people in Africa who need it most, Anthony Okello is not the solution that comes immediately to mind. He’s a medicine man, apprenticed as a teenager to the wandering witch doctor who treated him for a fever that other doctors couldn’t cure. When a patient goes to Okello complaining of rashes and diarrhea, as Lucy Ajam did recently, he recognizes the typical symptoms of AIDS for what they are. He immediately sent Ajam to the nearest hospital to start her on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs)–an approach even a traditionalist like Ajam heartily endorses. “For minor cases, I still use local herbs,” says Ajam, 51, a roadside bread vendor in Alenga, Uganda, a sprawling settlement overlooking the Nile River. “But it’s the ARVs that are keeping me alive.”

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Can Africa Get Out Of Debt?

This piece on debt relief in Africa ran in Time.

It’s archived below.

Oct. 03, 2004
Can Africa Get Out Of Debt?
Loan forgiveness is finally becoming a reality — and it will help. But more needs to be done to get the continent on the road to growth and make a dent in poverty.

By Stephan Faris

Kampala – The sound of shuffling feet announces her entrance as dozens of youngsters rise from their seats to chant in unison: “We welcome our headmistress.” Jane Kansiime, who runs the Kamwokya primary school in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, silently reviews the students, who stand politely at attention, five to a bench. Most wear the navy-and-turquoise school uniform, but other colors speckle the crowded classroom: a yellow shirt, a red dress, a white blouse. “We are not rigid here, as long as a child can come,” says Kansiime, 40. “It’s not the clothes that make the child learn.”

Six years ago, before Uganda became the first country to have its debt burden eased under a World Bank–administered initiative, classrooms like Kansiime’s were half empty. Parents couldn’t afford the $40-$50 annual tuition. Then the World Bank program, called the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, reduced Uganda’s loan payments on the condition that the savings be channeled into health care, agricultural development and free primary education.

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