Tuesday, July 02, 2002

New AIDS report Send this entry to: Del.icio.us Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

New AIDS report UNAIDS has another report report out. Commentary later-when I've read it (mighty hard on my 600 X 800 screen laptop). Update: OK, so I read it. Standard stuff-young people need to be educated so that HIV can be prevented. This seems to work-Uganda and Zambia were cases in point. The report (which is titled Young people and HIV/AIDS: Opportunity in crisis) starts out pretty generically:
HIV spreads rapidly within countries and across borders. It affects people regardless of gender, geography and sexual orientation.
Well, actually the report indicates that the pandemic in the developed world and the Islamic world, East Asia and Latin America still skews towards males who have sex with men and drug users. So gender and sexual orientation have something to do with it outside Africa and to some extent South Asia. As far as geography goes-around 90% of the high prevalence nations seemed to be Sub-Saharan African. The balance was filled in with a few Caribbean countries with large black populations and Estonia, the Ukraine and Cambodia. As I've noted before, Uganda can be deemed a success at 5% HIV infection prevalence while the potential of 1% infection in China in the year 2010 is cause for panic. On to Africa-yes-there is the gross amount of ignorance that people seem so concerned about. But when mapped across the continent young people in the southern region most recently afflicted with the highest infection rates are more well informed that those in other parts of the continent that are less riddled with HIV/AIDS. So knowledge is power-but the power to destroy yourself or save yourself. It seemed peculiar that the report would point to broad trends-ie; high STD rates in Africa-and then be organized in a jumbled manner juxtaposing studies from India the Ukraine and Malawi in a nonsensical fashion in the same paragraph. Are they trying to speak in some Straussian code here? Another interesting fact-that surprised me-is that the initial age of sexual activity of females is pretty variable throughout Africa-and overlaps pretty well with the spread in the developed world (where the United States at 17.2 is pretty low, and Italy at 22 is rather high). The report does make the make point that delaying sex and marriage have a positive affect on HIV negative status, seeing as how girls are as likely to have sex with older men as they are with their classmates in much of the developing world. But it seems to neglect the difference between the multiple epidemics even though it acknowledges they do exist distinctly. East European societies that lose junkies to AIDS have a different problem than Zimbabwe-where the best and the brightest (schools having to close because of dying teachers) seem to succumb. It is clear that HIV/AIDS creeps into a society through the backdoor-through the marginal drug addicts and promiscuous homosexuals (not that there's anything wrong with these activities in my opinion). But in certain societies-to some extent the United States and Europe, and even southeast Asia where the "next AIDS pandemic" was supposed to break out in the 1990s-the disease doesn't spread that far out of the marginalized groups. Rapid reaction by the government and social awareness seems to create a sexual cordon. No doubt the veritable black death that homosexual men faced in the 1980s will have an effect on the arts scene for decades to come-but society was not crippled by hundreds of thousands of children from nuclear families orphaned by the disease. Why is the epidemic so easily spread in African countries? We can add political instability and poverty into the mix-but that doesn't explain South Africa and Botswana, prosperous and politically stable, but with rates of infection between 25% and 35%. So I'm going to cut to the chase and assert that it's the pattern of sexual relationships. It is due-in my opinion-to the de facto polygamy of both men and women in African societies-especially the non-Islamic ones where male polygamy is not socially acceptable anymore. The report above notes that HIV/AIDS tends to be prevalent in cities in Africa-more so than rural areas. Cities are the very places where the mix of western culture and African values come together in a lethal mix. Remember, country folk are much less likely to be Christian than relatively educated city dwellers with degrees-and so traditional acceptance of polygamy for males would hold. But in the cities men who have one official wife often have "girlfriends" on the side. These girlfriends have multiple "boyfriends" to help support them since most of these men can't afford to fully take care of multiple women in various locations and they can't reduce the fixed costs by housing them under one roof. (I use quotations because some of the literature indicates that the men and women in question will attempt to pass off their relationship as that of spouses to those out of the loop). Obviously this web of sexual relationships makes it far more likely that someone at a nexus will encounter a marginal individual with HIV. It could be a man who visits a prostitute, or a women who has a boyfriend who's a junkie. In any case-the subterfuge that these relationships involve allow the disease to spread unchecked. The old mantra-education, education, education and development can't be the only solution. If that was so-rural and isolated areas of Africa would be the loci of the epidemic. Instead-it's the economic engine of the continent, South Africa-where transients working in the mining and industrial sectors come and go-where there are teachers taking sexual advantage of their students, where men are wealthy enough to attract multiple girlfriends but can't legimatize their relationships because of the western values that now suffuses their world-view. With one leg in their African past and looking toward to a transnational future-it seems that the continent is being torn asunder. On another note-it seems South Asia might be repeating the same pattern. I say might because I heard about the coming AIDS epidemic in India a few years after we started hearing warnings about South Africa-and at 0.8% India isn't nearly as dire as even the African success stories such as Senegal and Uganda. On the other hand-it is the only part of the world where more women than men have HIV/AIDS (according to the above report) indicating a disturbing pattern of transmission. India is not surprisingly the part of the world where Sub-Saharan levels of destitution and poverty are most easily found (in fact it is rather easy to argue that South Asia surpasses all but the most violent and war-torn regions of Africa in terms of poverty). But India-unlike Sub-Saharan Africa-does not have the same strong tradition of polygamy. Hindus are generally monogamous-and widows (traditionally) do not re-marry. Also-the injunctions against inter-caste relations might limit the epidemic to certain sectors. We'll see. The report indicated that the HIV/AIDS rates are jumping in southern India-the very region that is the economic powerhouse of South Asia (while the north lags).