Prior to coming to SA, my knowledge about HIV/AIDS was rather limited. I came from Iowa, where HIV/AIDS rates are quite low. I’ve rarely ever discussed the disease in daily life, I was never aware of anyone with HIV/AIDS, and my schooling briefly covered it in health classes. It simply wasn’t a problem, and I went through 22 years of life without really being affected by HIV/AIDS.
Oh how that has changed. I have not only moved to Africa, which has 10% of the world’s population and 60% of its HIV/AIDS sufferers, but I moved to South Africa, which has one of the highest rates of infection in the world…. In 2006, SA ranked 6th in the world, and the 5 leading countries were all border countries (Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. Is there a day that goes by when I don’t think of AIDS?
When you come to places like my village, the effects of AIDS quickly becomes apparent. My village has many, many children who are living with grandparents. Now, some have living parents that world outside the village. But when I am asked about my family, I am always asked if both my parents are living. In this country, to be 22 years old and have two living parents is a remarkable thing. Children or grandparents are often the sole caretakers of a family because AIDS has devastated a generation. Child-babyminder is a well-known term-children who take care of their siblings.
Efforts are being made to educate people on the virus and how to prevent it, but it seems too little, too late much of the time. People are still terrified to admit they or a family member is infected with HIV/AIDS because the stigma is so powerful here. Many believe becoming HIV positive is a death sentence, despite the many advances in anti-retrovirals (ARVs). Some believe terribly untrue myths on how to cure AIDS. And many just stick their heads in the sand and refuse to get tested, potentially infecting many others. Others would rather die than know or admit that they have HIV/AIDS. This is what stigma does.
It’s a crushing thing to deal with, and many times I just want to sit and cry because the burden falls on innocent children. Children who may never know what it is like to be comforted by their mothers, taught to herd to cows by their fathers, or live a carefree childhood.
According to UNICEF, 17.8% of the adult population in SA is infected with HIV (2009), and SA is the country with the highest number of HIV positive people. This equates to about 5.7 MILLION South Africans. There are about 2 million AIDS orphans in South Africa. 79,000 households are headed by children. About 3.3 million women are HIV positive, and risk transmitting it to their children during pregnancy.
This country is struggling to overcome this devastating health problem. Schools all around the country are trying to teach students how to prevent and be treated for HIV/AIDS. Clinics are trying to make sure people have access to ARVs. And people are trying to fight against the stigma. Yet in villages like mine, many of the greatest efforts have not reached here. People die of “sickness,” not AIDS. Only 7 million people worldwide receive ARVs (out of the 33 million HIV positive), so we have a long way to go.
As we observe another World AIDS Day, stop and consider what impact AIDS has had on our world, especially those of you in America. The fight against AIDS is far from over.
However, this article from the New York Times celebrates the efforts our WORLD has made against AIDS, and highlights the fact that we are realistically ready to fight the battle to END AIDS-that is incredible: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2011/12/01/opinion/a-decade-of-progress-on-aids.xml