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.