An Unseen Terror: South Africa’s AIDS Pandemic

Throughout our travels in South Africa, there were many issues that were easily visible to us, such as poverty and the lingering effects of Apartheid. However, one of South Africa’s most severe problems cannot be seen by the naked eye. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa has been crippling the country for years. South Africa is believed to have the more people with HIV/AIDS than any other country in the world. According to a 2007 UNAIDS report, approximately 12% of South Africans have HIV/AIDS. A study in 2010 showed that between 42% and 47% of all deaths among South Africans in the 2000s were related to HIV/AIDS.

I struggle to understand why South Africa’s AIDS epidemic is so much worse than in other places in the world. AIDS is one of the few diseases that is not only biological, but also is shaped by behavioral, social, and cultural factors. On the day we went to Khayelitsha, Nzwaki Qeqe, the Khosa woman who works for the progressive women’s movement of South Africa, told us that it is commonly believed in most cultures that a man can cure his AIDS by having sex with a young virgin. This, of course, is not true and contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Nzwaki spent the morning discussing gender violence issues with us. Many South African men physically abuse females. According to another 2010 study, a quarter of all South African men have raped at least one woman, and it is estimated that up to 70% of women have experienced sexual abuse. This is another emotionally disturbing contributor to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Some believe that a cause for the rapid spread of AIDS is due to a combination of impoverishment and widespread population movements in South Africa. On our trip we learned that during Apartheid, many coloreds and blacks were forced to leave their homes and were relocated. AIDS could have been spread this way because people from different areas were suddenly forced to live together in very close environments.

There are many clear efforts being made in South Africa to combat the spread of AIDS, and many of these could be seen by our group throughout our travels. When we visited the Methodist church in Langa, the first thing I noticed was the tapestry on the wall raising AIDS awareness. Langa also had a community center that was taking action. Additionally, I noticed that almost every one of the markets we visited across South Africa was selling beaded pins with the AIDS ribbon on them.

Nelson Mandela was an advocate against AIDS as well. After he lost his son to the virus in January 2005, Mandela started a series of concerts to raise money and spread awareness about AIDS. The concerts, known as 46664 (Mandela’s prison number), were done across the world and featured artists such as Robert Plant, Beyonce, and Queen.

South Africa is a country of incredible beauty, but scarred by social issue. AIDS is perhaps one of the worst issues in the country. But South Africa has fought to end many of the issues that plague the country, and they continue to do so with the fight against AIDS.

 

Tweet: AIDS in South Africa is a social problem as well as a biological one, but efforts are being made to defeat the virus in the country.

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6 Responses to An Unseen Terror: South Africa’s AIDS Pandemic

  1. Hayley Robb says:

    During our time spent in South Africa, I learned from one of the guest speakers we had that the age of consent for an individual dropped to 12 years old. The age used to be 16, which is similar to many other countries, such as the US. I think that 12 years old is far too young to be able to consent to sex. This could contribute to the AIDS/HIV pandemic, rather than help to combat it. I think another point to make is that the AIDS bracket profoundly targets young adults. This means that it is common for both parents to die from the disease while their children are still young, resulting in many young orphans.

  2. skilby2 says:

    Although I agree with your opinions on what causes the spread of HIV/AIDS, including the relocation of South African people during the Apartheid, and also the misconception that having unprotected sex with a virgin will cure the disease, did you consider the practice of polygamy which is also widely popular in South Africa? While it is true that many efforts exist in order to cure the disease and prevent its spread, there is a cultural barrier that exists and has existed in South Africa for centuries that may in fact never cause the spread of this disease to cease. Polygamy in my opinion, is one of the biggest issues that combats the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS. Although polygamy is a cultural practice, it also allows one man to have several sexual partners which not only puts more people at risk of developing the disease but also put the children of these women at risk as well. HIV/AIDS is such a global problem and an issue that will only be reversed when more advances are taken in preventing unprotected sex .

  3. Maddy Coda says:

    The high prevalence of AIDs in South Africa is not something that can be noticed by the naked eye like you said, so it is surprising to know South Africa has one of the highest rates of any country in the world. With this epidemic affecting such a large majority of the country, I wish we had done more while in South Africa to focus on this disease. It was interesting though because although we never primarily focused on AIDs, it was talked about at many places we visited and there were AIDs awareness and prevention efforts present throughout the communities. Like you said, I noticed the AIDs awareness tapestry in the church and the various trinkets and pins being sold to raise awareness. A huge reason that AIDs is so prevalent is because of the history of the country’s government and the stigma that comes with the disease. Even though Mandela is now an advocate for the disease, even when he first came into power he did not address the disease appropriately. However, over time Mandela as well as the government are addressing the disease and bringing awareness and prevention efforts to the public, which will ultimately be the only way to end the spread of this disease.

  4. kvandalfsen says:

    I found it interesting that despite the widespread prevalence of HIV/AIDs, there are many communities in South Africa in which the residents have very little factual knowledge about the disease. During one of our discussions about sexual violence, it was mentioned that there is a common misconception that some South African men have that they will be cured of AIDs if they have sex with a virgin. This obviously just compounds the problem and does not help any of the involved parties, but it is still a belief that many subscribe to. The lack of knowledge about the disease is truly disturbing, and I think that before any prevention attempts will be successful, there needs to be a huge educational campaign in schools and community centers to teach people about what HIV actually is, how it is acquired, and what the treatment options are.

  5. Allie Weller says:

    I had the same thoughts as Kelsey when considering HIV and reading your blog post. It really concerns me that about 25% of people living in South Africa have HIV, and yet it seems as though the public in some areas is so uneducated about the true nature of the disease. The fact that some traditional cultures and tribes don’t know how the disease is transmitted or basic facts about the disease is heartbreaking, as education is the only way in which South Africans can fight the disease. In order to fix this, I think that programs like Ubuntu need to focus on HIV. If they expose males to the real facts about HIV, perhaps a change can start to be made.

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