Saturday, December 1, 2007

world AIDS day

I was lucky enough to be in South Africa earlier this year. I loved what I saw of the country, but also found it hard to visit a country so ravaged by HIV/AIDS. Experts estimate that somewhere from one in four to one in five people in the country are infected. Shocking.

There are so many frightening stats, too many to list. In a snapshot... About half of all deaths in the country, and 71% of deaths among those between 15 and 49, are caused by AIDS. Two years ago, there were an estimated 1.2 million children orphaned by AIDS, and over half of the country's 15 year olds are not expected to reach the age of 60. South Africans spend more time at funerals than they do having their hair cut, shopping or having braai (and they love their braai!).

These are shocking numbers for a country with the infrastructure and wealth of South Africa. I can only start to guess at some of the many contributing factors:
- social instability in a country that's been distracted by major political changes
- poverty amongst the large rural population who have little to no access to medical care
- something like 14% illiteracy
- a high incidence of rape, leaving women frequently in unprotected situations. Not that long ago, one in three women in the country reported being raped in the previous year
- the fact that the virus hasn't affected those in power, both politically and in business, as much as it has the rest of the population. Estimates indicate infection among whites is as low as 0.6%

Perhaps more fundamental is government inaction, compounded by ignorance among those in power. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence, President Mbeki may still not be convinced that HIV causes AIDS. His former health minister promoted a beetroot, garlic and lemon diet as a means of treating HIV. And his one-time deputy President publically stated that he showered after sexual relations with an HIV-positive woman, believing that this would reduce his chances of contracting the virus.

The tide may be turning; Mandela is now more of an advocate since his son died of AIDS in 2005. South Africa is also investing in a national advertising campaign, some of which I saw when I was there.

don't want HIV generation
But it's too little, too late, for so many people in South Africa. How sad, for a country that could have and should have done better for its people.

In unrelated medical news, I keep reading about this poor guy with his botched colostomy reversal. How much would it suck to have your surgeon mix up which which stuff comes out of which end? Did buddy miss that class at med school?


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