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Africa defined Hiv/Aids adequately enough to effectively confront
Extracted from Pambazuka News 196
March 03, 2005
No. 195's Editorial on 'HIV/AIDS - The dilemma of the inevitable'
by Kiiza Ngonzi, not only served as an 'awaking bell' for all of
us Africans grappling with HIV/AIDS and its direct impact on our
lives, but threw a real challenge to the strategies we are employing
to combat a disease that is already devastating our populations.
a tragedy and an amazing puzzle it is that almost two and half decades
since HIV/AIDS hit Africa, Africa continues to be devastated by
this determined killer disease. In all our faces, HIV/AIDS is on
the rampage, going about its business infecting and killing millions
of Africans, old, young, pretty, ugly, big, small, rich, poor, educated,
illiterate, urban, rural, professional, unprofessional at free will.
To Africans HIV/AIDS seems so powerful that it has overcome our
intellect and control, leaving us with our heads buried in the sand.
The impact of
HIV/AIDS on our lives can hardly be over-estimated. By this time,
there is hardly anyone in Sub Saharan Africa who has not been touched
by HIV/AIDS. All of us know what it is to be afflicted by this dreadful
disease, because if we have individually not been afflicted, we
have had relatives, friends, or colleagues who have been directly
or indirectly affected. We have seen it often enough since it killed
its first victim in Uganda in 1979, and hospitalized its first patient
in Zambia in 1982.
The impact on
our social services is already real. Our hospitals are overwhelmed
by the numbers of terminally sick and the dying, while our mortuaries
and graveyards are littered with the dead.
magnitude, ravages and devastation of HIV/AIDS is best illustrated
by the long term effects on our nations, reflected in the situation
of African children. UNAIDS already estimates that there are as
many as 11 million orphans in sub Saharan Africa, 1 million of whom
are in Nigeria, 890,000 in Kenya and 780,000 in Zimbabwe. South
Africa is expected to have up to 1.5 million orphaned children by
2010, while in Zambia 1.8 million children are increasingly vulnerable
as HIV/AIDS continues to destroy the traditional family social safety
net, causing massive school dropouts and chronic malnutrition.
impact of HIV/AIDS on the African Continent is manifesting itself
not only in reduced quality of human life, but dramatically reduced
life spans, already believed to have dwindled to a low of 32-37
years of age, compared to an average of 57 in the post independence
Africa of the mid 1970s, and 78 years of life in the Western World.
This practically means that one has a period of 32 years in which
to grow, acquire an education and life skills, develop a career,
raise a family and contribute to national development before life
terminates. How possible is this? Today, in most of our countries,
every child born is assumed to have a significant chance of contracting
HIV and dying of AIDS. HIV/AIDS has clearly become a national emergency
in most of our countries
And yet HIV/AIDS
is a behaviour disease and a human being can control its behavioral
spread, and its infection. He/she can refuse to allow HIV into his/her
body, and it will effectively stay away and if he/she is already
infected, he/she can determine to live with it, hold a dialogue
with it, talk to it, agree to accommodate it in his/her body, but
ask it to give him/her time to live, to accomplish certain tasks,
and together, they can plan to allow him/her to complete his/her
career, plan for his/her children, build them a house. This is not
possible with a motor or aircraft accident, heart disease, meningitis,
cancer, TB, pneumonia, cholera, malaria, even child birth.
it is not far fetched to say that the on-going status of HIV/AIDS
in Africa is an indicator of a bigger and far deeper problem. As
the saying goes, 'the way you define a problem determines your ability
to confront it'. The question is, 'has Africa defined HIV/AIDS adequately
enough to confront it head-on?'
16-29-year old community outreach volunteers, comprising four females
and six males with educational backgrounds of 6th to 12th Grades,
spent two weeks walking about markets, schools, churches, streets,
bars, taverns and restaurants of Mtendere Compound, one of Lusaka's
largest townships, trying to find out what ordinary community people
thought and brought these findings:
1. Whereas most
people talked to knew that HIV/AIDS is a killer disease that still
has no cure, they had difficulty with its identity, its name, 'HIV/AIDS'
(Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome),
which they felt was in itself a contributing factor to its un-halted
spread since it is too scientific and therefore, too complicated
for the majority of ordinary people to understand.
This was believed to be the reason for a variety of configured nicknames
such as Uganda's 'Slim Disease', and Zambia's 'Long Illness' or
'Kangundende', which sounded like mockery and ridicule and served
to increase stigma. Many said that whereas they could clearly identify
other diseases with symptoms specific to them, such as coughing
blood in TB or sores on the genitals in syphilis, there were no
specific symptoms for HIV/AIDS apart from a variety of so-called
'opportunistic infections'. Consequently, a lot of people were confused
and resort to associating HIV/AIDS with witchcraft, while many others
have given up even trying, and resolved to leave 'HIV/AIDS as a
disease like any other, made and sent by God and that if God has
determined that one will die from it, it will happen'; while others
still said, 'every one on earth has AIDS; if it is your day it is!'
2. The team
further found that our current popular prevention and mitigation
strategies against the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS such as ABC
(Abstain, Be faithful, and Condomize) and VTC (Voluntary Testing
and Counseling) were themselves greatly challenged since a lot of
youths strongly believe that:
- Sex has
become just like a game among young people, 'if you don't practice
sex, then you are left out with this world;
- Condoms cause
test accuracy is questionable. As one 19-year old woman expressed,
'my brother tested positive at one testing center after testing
negative twice at another centre;
alcohol abuse among the youth does not facilitate abstinence or
difficulties take far more precedence over a disease.
3. Some cultural/traditional
beliefs/practices, many embedded in male supremacy, continue to
hamper ordinary people from freely and openly discussing sex with
their sex partners. There was no or little evidence to show that
society had come to terms with the nature and transmission of this
life destroying disease.
4. Some concerned
parents and elderly people be-moaned HIV/AIDS sensitization teams
which come into communities, talk about the disease and are never
seen checking to see if what they preached was being practiced;
while yet others blamed the escalating rates of HIV/AIDS infections
on indiscriminate distribution of condoms among young people, which
was giving them false trust in the power of the condom and eroding
and corrupting their morals.
remains too mysterious for ordinary Africans to understand and to
relate to. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for a disease
which is destroying life in the millions, hampers people's ability
to dream of the future, and dramatically reduces life spans, to
be given tantalizing baptismal or beautiful nick names which only
serve to confuse local community people, and limit their ability
and efforts to combat the disease.
Indeed, we at
MAPODE strongly believe that if Africa is to combat this horror
disease, there is absolutely no need for people to be apologetic
about it. A disease that, unlike its potential victims has no fear
(is brave), is not embarrassed, not hidden, not ashamed, not shy,
and has already rendered human sex a 'life and death' affair deserves
no gentility. Therefore, Trust in love is no longer enough! There
is a need to be absolutely sure of safety before one commits themselves
to engage in the sex. Authentic safety is a must.
Indeed, we at
MAPODE concur with Kiiza Ngozi that if Africa is to combat this
horror disease, HIV/AIDS messages need to be communicated in a language
best and easily understandable to us Africans who are its hardest
hit victims, a task we cannot leave to others to do for us. It is
high time we woke up to the truth that HIV/AIDS has also become
a source of huge profits for big trans/multi-national industries,
and is creating un-precedented employment opportunities for multi-lateral
agencies. Therefore, left this way, chances of finding a practical
solution within the near future will remain as remote as a pipe
dream, a likely replica of our economies already brought to their
knees by inappropriate experimental external policies. It is for
this reason that we strongly feel that Africa, through its political
and community leadership, working together with traditional elders,
scientists, spiritual leaders and teachers, are all challenged to
demystify and simplify HIV/AIDS so that our people can individually
and collectively deal with it head-on rather than continuing to
use kid-glove methods. Unless we are content to wait for another
* Merab Kambamu
Kiremire (Mrs.), a Development Worker/Researcher is the Initiator/Director
of MAPODE (Movement of Community Action for the Prevention and Protection
of Young People Against Poverty, Destitution, Diseases and Exploitation),
a Community-based Youth-at-Risk focused Non Governmental Organization
(NGO) that implements child/youth prevention and protection programmes
in Zambia and Uganda. She was one of the 6 University of Cape Town
(UCT)'s African Gender Institute Rockefeller 2004 Associates.
Please visit: http://www.mapode.freewebpages.org
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