Writer provides new insight on AIDS epidemic

All of us are familiar with “the AIDS Epidemic,” a term that has been used to describe the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS worldwide. In the Western world, many tend to focus more on what that means to their communities, somewhat ignoring the astounding reality that 83 percent of the world’s AIDS-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, with the numbers climbing at an alarming rate.

According to several African related articles in the New York Times, some claim that a lack of effective AIDS prevention education is to blame. While that is true, there are many pressing social factors that contribute to the inaction of AIDS education efforts. An example of this would be how some have been convinced to think that Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs (medication that radically slows the progression of HIV to AIDS) are the actual cause of infection.

Also, another old wives’ tale believed by some Africans is that having sex with a virgin will cure an AIDS-afflicted person from the virus. What is even more disturbing about this misinformation is that some believe that the younger the girl, the more effective she will be. This then leads to young girls, and sometimes infants, being raped, contributing to an already astronomical amount of sexual assault.

AIDS testing and treatment is not easily accessible to a great number of people who may have been infected, most of which live in poverty. Also, some would rather not be tested until they fall ill out of fear of being ostracized from their communities, an alienation rendering them helpless to provide for their children.

At times, the use of condoms or the mere suggestion of such protection is also feared, because a woman can be beaten by her husband if asking for this kind of protection and may falsely implicate herself of being unfaithful. Most of the time it is the male spouse who is the adulterer and then infects his wife. Thus, if a woman has doubts about the sexual promiscuity of her husband, she can’t easily protect herself.

Ultimately, those most affected by AIDS are the children in Africa. In respect to AIDS statistics, a child is defined as an individual under the age of 15. Out of the estimated 2.3 million children infected worldwide, 2 million are in sub-Saharan Africa and are without necessary treatment and counseling.

Many have to give up school to become caretakers for sick family members. It is then their responsibility to become the primary wage earners. The children strive to supplement the income lost because their parents are ill, while attempting to afford medicines as well.

Those orphaned are instantly transformed into the head of their households, responsible for any siblings they may have. All the while, they themselves may become afflicted with AIDS. Many adolescents in this position usually then become infected through unprotected sex or rape.

Most children contract the virus from their mothers, either by birth or through breast-feeding. However, some have been infected due to contact with un-sterilized needles and infected blood products as newborns. Once infected, the infants are not expected to live past the age of five due to the lack of ARVs designed for the young victims.

Children must be given different forms of medications, many based on age and weight. Because of the scarcity and high cost of children’s medicines, some doctors have attempted to break adult doses into what they guess to be a child’s dosage and administer their “guesstimates.”

Childhood illnesses, such as chicken pox and the mumps, contribute to the high mortality rate for infected children. Their compromised immune systems are not capable of fighting ailments that are common among children, most especially because of their quality of life.

Until the pain and faces of these children are branded in our minds, they will continue to suffer and die. Each becoming a simple statistic and a number to us, unknowing and unwilling martyrs that encourage us to make a difference until we finally choose to.

There are efforts to help those with AIDS in Africa -we know this. However, much more can and needs to be done. An increase in support will result in a more powerful movement to aid those desperately suffering.

Living in the Western world, there are many more accessible forms of assistance provided to those who have AIDS. Those in sub-Saharan Africa do not have anything remotely similar by comparison, so they are left to suffer. So I shall ask, how many children have to die before we begin to truly act against this epidemic?

Sarah Al-Mulla is a junior journalism major and a weekly columnist for the Daily Forty-Niner.


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