AIDS in Africa

If you want to have a good impression of how AIDS is tearing the heart out of Africa read the book 28 stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolan. Not only is it very well written and therefore a joy to read but it summarises the whole long history of AIDS and gives you 28 intimate human stories. If your heart can bear it this is the book to read.

In sub-Saharan Africa it is estimated that 25 million people are infected with HIV (2007). Every day 14,000 new people are being infected. The total number is still increasing, although the growth rate is decreasing. The good news is that in some countries successful prevention programs have been rolled out that slow the epidemic down. The bad news is that in some countries the percentage infected is so high, more than one third of the population, and so many have already deceased, that due to that, the epidemic is literally dying down.

There are many reasons why the disease has been spreading so much in Africa. A lot has to do with the position of women and widespread promiscuity. African women often do not have the right to refuse sex. The way the disease spread over the continent also has a lot to do with the socio-economical situation. Where men are away from home for long stretches of time, sex workers swarm around them. Truckers that take goods from the few big ports on lorries with bald tyres and badly maintained engines take weeks to reach their destination over roads that are full of holes. Around the ports, the places of rest and the borders prostitutes step up in their cabins and provide sex for less than a dollar. Men that work in mines are often away from their family for more than a year. Again prostitutes fulfil their sexual needs.

It takes typically eleven years before AIDS becomes manifest. So for many years people can be ignorant of their situation, or ignore the risk and assume they are safe or that some magic or traditional medicine will safeguard them. The typical situation is that first the man falls ill. He starts losing weight, gets pains all over the body, gets TB or other infections as well, loses his appetite, stops working and providing for the family and often, without seeing a doctor, dies. The taboo on AIDS is still very strong in most places, and people rather die, so called of TB, than to investigate whether they are HIV-positive and get treatment, that is if available. Typically some years later the wife starts developing symptoms as well, and feeling the responsibility for her children, hopefully overcomes the taboo and consults a doctor.

It's the adults, those that work and raise children, that get AIDS and die from it, leaving a huge gap between the generations of children and grandparents. There are many AIDS-orphans all over sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010 it is estimated there will be 15 million. In Swaziland, which has the highest percentage of infected people, one out of three children is an orphan. They often have to bring themselves up and the oldest girl acts as the mother to the whole family. If she's lucky she still has the family home but if she's pretty the local men will start hassling her. And if she's lucky she finds an aid agency to give her money for food or maybe she makes some money by platting people's hair after school. She also needs money to educate her brothers and sisters and if she's got quite a few of them that's an impossibility normally.

Poverty is besides sexual behaviour an important factor in the spreading of AIDS. People are often uneducated and are therefore prone to all kinds of beliefs and misconceptions regarding health and disease, AIDS in particular. Poverty also leads to a lack of proper nutrition. It is the reason why doctors, hospitals or medicines are often not available at all or too expensive. In one country there are only 50 active doctors (2007) for a population of millions.

Prevention is often a difficult issue. Men do not like using condoms for a start, and the catholic churches have often preached against them. And although condoms can be provided to Africa for around 3 cents and are often given away for free their availability still is a problem, as it is with many things in Africa.

The world is pumping billions of dollars into Africa for AIDS each year, but lots of it never gets where it is intended for. The implementation methods chosen are often very inept and open to corruption.. Billions of dollars have been spend to develop a vaccination program for HIV, but all attempts have failed, and the one for which researchers had the highest hopes turned out to infect people rather than prevent infection. Funds for ARVs controlled by some religious organisations are sometimes deliberately withheld from people like sex workers, who are often supporting large families, as they are viewed as evil.

Altogether this draws quite a hopeless picture, but nevertheless there is also progress being made. More and more African men and women dare to stick their neck out, to defy the taboo around AIDS. They state in public that they are HIV-positive. Positively living with HIV/AIDS is a slogan used by many. They visit schools, prostitutes and orphanages and educate their brothers and sisters about prevention. They set up hospices to provide those in end stages the love and care they need. These are the people that will make the change. These are the people that deserve our support.

Another source of hope is that there is a treatment to complement ARVs and prevention programs that is effective, cheap and without side-effects. This treatment with PC1 is a real ray of hope. About PC1 - as also PC501h for side-effects of ARVs and PC435p for the stigma, taboo and trauma of rape - you can read on the other pages of this website. There are several other PC Resonances developed for other conditions in Africa. For these see