Wednesday, December 01, 2004
World AIDS Day
I have to admit that AIDS was not something I ever thought much about before I went to South Africa. Here in the states it's far-removed from most of us. We see it as a preventable disease, are well-educated about how the virus is contracted, and are fortunate enough to live in a wealthy country where drugs and treatments are available. Not so in Sub-Saharan Africa. There, AIDS is not a social problem. It's not attacking just the homosexuals, and drug users; it's affecting entire families, towns, and countries. In the small community of Masiphumelele, where we vistited in Cape Town, the total number of people infected is close to 1 in 4 or 5 people. And that's just the people they know about. Once infected, the HIV virus can lie dormant for years, so there are likely many more sick than we currently know about.
The world is trying to respond to the AIDS pandemic, but it's just not happening fast enough. The most important stage in stopping the spread of the HIV virus is educating people how it is contracted, and teaching abstinence and safe sex. People in South Africa are terrified of people finding out that they have AIDS. They either will not get tested for the virus because they themselves do not want to know, or else they are tested, but keep it a secret when they are found to have HIV. Families and communities will cast out the infected from their homes and society, much like the leppers were social outcasts in Biblical times. Rather than risk the shame that comes from admitting one has the dreaded HIV virus, they keep it a secret and meanwhile AIDS continues to spread. This is not just the case in South Africa, but in many parts of the world. We can help by either providing funds for education, or going ourselves to teach those who will listen. Wake up America and get involved. If you have an opportunity to give to an AIDS fund please do so. It's not just an African problem. It's a world problem.