Throughout our entire experience in South Africa there was information on HIV/AIDS in almost every museum and exhibition that we visited. It is a terrible disease that affects so many people, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
One museum that had more information on HIV/AIDS than was expected was Maropeng. There was a piece that had the following information: “Over 40 million people are living with HIV worldwide, more than half of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over 20 million people have died of AIDS since it was discovered in 1981. About 3.1 million people died from AIDS in 2004.” After reading this I stood near the plaque and looked at peoples faces while they read it, and the looks that were made by other students told the whole story. The looks that I saw were mostly of shock because we had learned about how devastating the disease was, but seeing these statistics rite in front of our faces seemed to have hit home much more than if we had read them on a computer back in the United States.
Many other museums had information or something depicting the disease, one of which was Constitution Hill. They depicted an image of AIDS as a red bed with black, spike looking protrusions coming out of it and in the middle of this was a face that had a look of agony and pain. The tour guide told only told me that it depicted a person infected with HIV/AIDS and that it was up to me to determine my own opinion on it.
The other place that I saw information on HIV/AIDS was in the schools that we visited. When I walked around the schools working for Ubuntu Sports Outreach telling the students that we were playing futbol after school I saw small posters in some of the class rooms with information on HIV/AIDS. I asked some of the teachers if they talked about it and they said not to the younger students because most of them know people with the disease and it was too troubling to them. When I asked teachers for the older students they said they didn’t talk about it much which shocked me. With kids getting married and having sex earlier in life there needs to be more sex education earlier in students lives so the idea of using protection and practicing safe sex is instilled in them earlier in life.
Another major issue that our cohort came across was healthcare. Healthcare encompasses so many things from dental care to medicine for the common cold, and South Africa is struggling in many of these areas. When you go into many of the townships there is garbage and trash everywhere, lines of porter potties surrounding homes, and stagnant water in some areas. In a country where there are so many townships, these issues are magnified even more. When you walk around the various areas and you talk to the local people of South Africa you notice that some their teeth are missing, or there were brown stains on their teeth, and this is a product of the healthcare system. I talked to Jeff Wojewoda, who is aspiring to be a dentist after school and he said that if he came down to South Africa to work he would be the busiest dentist in the world. Dental hygiene is another area the South African government has not tackled, but it needs to start fixing some of the major health care problems in the country.
The healthcare system was drastically unequal during apartheid, and that has continued even now. The disparity in money the different populations receive from the government is too great to help fix many of the health issues that are currently affecting South Africa. The government is trying to do more to help stop the AIDS epidemic, but that is not the only health issue that is currently affecting the country. Other disease such as bacterial diarrhea, Typhoid Fever, and Hepatitis A are also extremely prevalent and do not receive as much focus as HIV/AIDS. South Africa is an amazing country, but with out proper healthcare and education the problems will never be fixed.