“DEAR HIV & AIDS. FAIR WARNING.
WE’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE.
WHATEVER YOU THROW AT US,
WE’LL COME BACK STRONGER.
MORE DETERMINED TO ADVANCE
THE SCIENCE AND THE
PARTNERSHIPS THAT FIGHT
YOU AND WHAT YOU DO,
AND WILL ONE DAY ERADICATE
SO, FAIR WARNING.
YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED.
WE’RE HERE UNTIL YOU AREN’T.”
This was the bold greeting extended by #AIDS2018AMSTERDAM to HIV and Aids, the disease that was once a devastating menace and scourge, whose venom has since been tamed and can now be controlled, although a cure still remains to be discovered.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) comes from a group of retroviruses called lentiviruses which are described as more evolved versions of retroviruses that infect primates, including humans. HIV will destroy the body’s immune system if it is left alone to ravage the body of an infected person.
HIV is a communicable disease. The HIV retrovirus is mainly transmitted in four different ways: through sexual activity and its related fluids - sperm, semen and vaginal secretions; through blood, via unsanitary needles and transfusions; through contact between mother and child during the process of childbirth; and, through breastfeeding, although this risk is exceptionally low.
Globally, heterosexual contact is the most common means through which 80% HIV is transmitted. HIV is not spread through hugging, casual contacts, aerosols, touching the same household items or insect bites.
The origins of the Aids virus have remained rather vague, with the general consensus being that it was first discovered in the Congo in 1959 and the source varying between a chimpanzee and an oral polio vaccine. Another less scientific school of thought suggests that HIV may be a Western strategy to eliminate black people and replace them with the “finest race in the world” – the white race! Ultimately, both root and source may somewhat be secondary, with the real issues being how to ensure that the days of HIV and Aids truly become numbered.
Botswana has been cited as the African paradise due to its low population, vast reserves of natural resources, free education, low crime rates and war-free status. A proud example of excellent governance, it would be the least expected, but research shows that from virtually zero levels of infection at the start of the century, to date, 84% of the adults and 60% of the children are on antiretroviral treatment.
In South Africa, in 2017, an estimated 48% adults were on antiretroviral treatment. As at 2016, 74% adults in Zimbabwe were on antiretroviral treatment, while in Namibia 17% of the children under the age of 18 are orphaned by at least one parent, primarily due to Aids with a national prevalence of 14%. South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV/Aids at seven million while Swaziland has the highest estimated prevalence in the region at 27%, followed by Lesotho at 25% and Botswana at 21%. Zimbabwe is sixth in sub-Saharan Africa at 13.5%.
Indeed, development levels may play a critical role in shaping responses and interventions, but I believe that there are further social elements that should be considered in the discourse, if we are to combat HIV and Aids in Africa. It is said that the epidemic first came to being in Africa, is that why it has dug deeper roots and anchored here?
Apart from poverty, what else causes our continent to be the hardest hit? Could it be because African men are said to be generally bigger hung than most, giving room to more friction during intercourse? Could it be about cultural practices and norms and their part in gender dynamics? Do we as Africans view sex in a particular manner that renders us more susceptible to infection? Is our high HIV and Aids prevalence hinged in immorality and the absence of sexual discipline? Could there be truth in submissions that our men view women as conquests and that manhood is ratified by the number of women one can bed? Does religion play a part? What are the social effects of HIV and Aids? Which members of communities are affected the most? If responsibility towards others is a factor in the infection discussion, what does that mean in relation to criminalisation of issues around infection of others?
I believe that while Aids has been publicly packaged as an unfortunate biological phenomenon and an expensive burden to tax payers, it does have dimensions that rest in the answers to the above questions. D. Todd Christofferson, who served as the law clerk to the presiding judge over the Watergate prosecution of President Nixon, is on record for saying that “The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself what is right.
Concepts such as sin and wrong have been condemned as "value judgments”. We have to introspect and ask ourselves whether there is a link between private moral decisions and suffering from the consequences of our actions. We have to come to a place of responsibility and accountability where we reconcile our sexual behaviours with the consequences thereafter.
We also have to acknowledge that a lot of times, when one party becomes infected by HIV by another, it is often due to the sexual behaviour of one who makes a choice to be non-monogamous and there is truth in the reality that HIV infection often occurs among guiltless individuals such as innocent newborns and blameless spouses.
Sex can be wonderful and pleasurable and that factor needs not be lost in the maze of configuring, packaging and disseminating the topic of HIV and Aids. But, beyond those inexplicable sensations that can race from anywhere between the tips of the hair, through the crevices of the stomach past the crux landing somewhere yonder the toe nails, there are several issues around HIV and Aids that must be addressed. And every sexually active human has a responsibility to preserve, not just themselves, but also those that they have sex with.
With its major prevalence recorded on the mother continent, in the next few weeks, we will focus on HIV/Aids and share the different dimensions of the disease and how it affects us as a people as well as endeavour to unpack the variables.