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Bridging the Hiv/aids Gap in Africa

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Bridging the HIV/AIDS Information Gap in Southern Africa

Written by Fred Engh

“I have heard of injections and pills and condoms, but they are not for me…because I am not familiar with them. I tied a piece of yarn around my babies waist to protect him. I also tied a piece of yarn around my own waist-it is good luck-to protect me from getting pregnant. There are traditional rituals to do-the yarn has traditional medicine and talismans tied to it, and this prevents me from getting pregnant.” (KM interview 27/02/1995) This was the answer of an African mother who was asked about preventing pregnancy and the spread of AIDS, she was interviewed in an attempt to gain some insight into the problem of HIV/AIDS and vertical transmission from mother to infant. The study, conducted by UK Medical Researchers, asked several adult couples various questions regarding their sexual history and family background. After interviewing the subjects, it became apparent that lack of education and high level of fear and ignorance were only making the problem worse for the people living in sub-Saharan Africa. When an African soldier, age 35, was asked to list some ways that HIV or AIDS could be transmitted, he listed through saliva, kissing, a toothbrush, razor blades, scissors, syringes and transfusions, however he also insisted that he had an ‘intuitive sense’ about sexually transmitted diseases, and would know if a woman was infected. This obvious gap in information needs closer examination. While reading this paper we will look at three southern countries in Africa with similar social make-ups and look at what is being done tohelp stop the spread of AIDS among young women. This paper will research some of the reasons contributing to the AIDS epidemic in South Africa today and the issues they face in bridging the information gap.

AIDS is a massive global problem that impacts mainly people in poverty and without access to basic health and educational services and it is Africa that is the epicenter of the pandemic and home to only 10% of the world’s population but almost 70% of all the people in the world living with HIV/AIDS(Christenson,2005). In 1982 the first cases of HIV were diagnosed in South Africa, the first cases were mostly gay white men. The same as in other countries, as the number of cases increases, AIDS began spreading to the rest of the population. In 1985 an Aids Advisory board was appointed and in 1990 the first antenatal surveys to test for HIV were carried out. This first test showed that 8% of women were found to be HIV positive. In 1990 50% of all medical admissions to South African hospitals were AIDS related. Then in 1999 the prevalence rate of infection in Africa skyrocketed to 22.4% based on antenatal testing, and on up to 26.5% in the year 2003(Avert, 2005). The figures clearly show an explosion in HIV prevalence between the years 1982 through 2003. What is the reason behind the huge leap in infection rates among pregnant women during this previous century? There are many groups focused at assisting aids in preventing the disease, bringing in medication and health care services, educating the population, investigating harmful cultural practices and addressing current beliefs and fears related to AIDS.

In 2003 15 million children under 18 had been orphaned by HIV/AIDS worldwide. About 12 million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is expected that this number will have risen to more than 18 million by 2010(Rebirth, 2003). Children grieving for dying or dead parents are often stigmatized by society through association with HIV/AIDS. Before and after a child loses their parent, they experience a lot of shame, fear, and rejection that often surround people affected by HIV/AIDS.

There is often an irrational fear surrounding AIDS, and children from infected families may be denied access to schooling and health care in their communities, and once a parent

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