Health, fitness and Food

Thousands condemned to death… by their own people. The HIV

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I am in a state of shock. So might you be if you watched the recent documentary “Living with Aids”, made by the award winning journalist Sorious Samura. Sorious spent one month in a Zambian hospital as an orderly. He was confronted daily by the end product of HIV, people dying in the most painful, undignified way, with little drugs available to alleviate their suffering.

 

By now, we are used to seeing pictures of Aids victims filling our screens and newspapers with their wasted bodies. Such images were not the most shocking part of the film though. The attitude of the young generation most affected by the disease is what rocked my hope to see a decline in the spread of Aids in Africa.

 

The prevalent attitude amongst young men seriously aggravates an already tragic situation and needs to be addressed most urgently. This attitude can be explained two-fold. Young African men seem to have a total aversion to using condoms. “Skin to skin” or “flesh to flesh” is what they want and even demand. In their mind, nothing will do except the real thing. To use a condom would be like “eating a banana with the skin” as one very sick Aids male victim explained. Such a mind set would be acceptable if there was no danger associated with it but these young men think it is a risk well worth taking, even when they are still clear of the disease. So we have here a whole generation of healthy males “death-bent” on seeking genuine pleasures of the flesh, thereby putting their own lives on the line. Not only do they show a complete lack of respect for their own lives but also for the lives of their numerous sexual partners. For, once they are infected by the disease and aware of it, they are intentionally, in their own words, “bringing down with them” as many people as possible.

 

Young females one the other hand would prefer the men to use condoms. But it is not in the culture for them to stand up to the men so they easily give in to their demands of the real thing. Once infected, women show the same disregard towards preventing further infections. Sex workers sometimes insist on their client using a condom for a higher price but are often forced to give in if they want any trade at all.

 

Once testing HIV positive, these young people feel condemned to death and nothing will convince them to put a stop to their senseless practice, not even to prevent others from falling pray to the same fate. These people are bringing Africa down to its knees. The efforts of the global community to help with preventive measures and medicine is totally undermined by the mental blindness, short-sightedness and selfishness of a whole generation, in whose hands lies a very gloomy future.

 

Maybe we would also be filled with despair leading to hopelessness and carelessness if we knew the future holds not much for us at the best of times, let alone when one is sick with an incurable disease. But I still find it inexcusable to purposefully condemn other people to death, so as to lighten the burden of one’s own sentence. Even when challenged with their irresponsible attitudes, the young men show little sign of emotion or understanding of the consequences of their actions. They cannot fathom that they have turned themselves into silent “killers” (in the West, wilfully infecting another person is punishable with a severe prison sentence) and that they are contributing to the ever-growing population of orphans, without mentioning the physical suffering associated with the disease.

 

Is the situation truly hopeless? Can we not turn around the spread of Aids and slowly but surely bring the figures down? One African country, Uganda, is forever cited as an example of what can be achieved if the problem is firstly recognised and then tackled on various fronts, such as sexual education, encouraging the use of condoms, faithfulness and abstinence. Yet, many other countries are lagging way behind, South Africa being the worst case of all, where superstitious beliefs to prevent developing the disease are still rife. Young men think nothing of having sex with two year old girls in order to protect themselves from infection. Needless to say, the practice has no effect at all, apart from inflicting unspeakable suffering to the victims.

 

If the global community really wanted to, enough retro-viral drugs could be made available to every Aids sufferer in Africa and have an immediate positive influence on the situation. What really shakes my hope is to know that deeply embedded cultural behaviours, even when mutated into harmful practices, cannot be shed overnight. It is one of the hardest thing to try to make “blind” people see.

 

If only Africa could, today, hold a vision of a brighter future, many would think it paramount to take care of themselves because the waiting would be worthwhile. But for lack of such a vision, carelessness and selfishness have taken up residence where hope and consciousness should prevail.

 

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”. For the sake of Africa, and on behalf of millions of Africans, I will hold on the vision of an Aids-free future, even if it is way down the line. Now is not the time to give up on Africa, however much this program has shown that part of its on-going Aids predicament is self-inflicted. Africa’s willingness to try to tackle its own problems must be encouraged more than ever, even if its young people have to be told they have no right, whatever, to condemn another human being to death. The price of a human life is much higher than just a few pleasurable moments of unprotected sex!

by Isabelle Gravenstein

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