Why Is Africa Suffering So Much?
JACOB, 42 years old, is a sick man. He has AIDS. He also infected his wife with AIDS. “My wife knows she got it from me,” admits Jacob.
But how did Jacob pick up the fatal virus? He explains: “I was living alone in Harare, driving from Zambia, through Zimbabwe, all the way down to Botswana and Swaziland. My wife was living with our children in Manicaland [in Zimbabwe]. And us drivers, we did some things we should have been more careful about.”
The Promiscuous Plague
Today, promiscuous sexual behavior is the main propagator of AIDS in Africa. Simply put, “sexual rules have largely broken down,” explains AIDS researcher Dawn Mokhobo. The journal African Affairs says that “sub-Saharan Africa puts considerable value on children but minimal value on marriage. Sexuality outside of marriage, even . . . if it leads to pregnancy, is not disapproved of strongly.” According to Nature, the typical route that the infection follows starts with the prostitute. Says the report: “Female prostitutes serve to seed the epidemic in most monogamous women through contact with promiscuous husbands.”
Not many are willing to change their behavior. The Panos Document on AIDS in Africa tells the following experience of a medical researcher in Zaire: “One night, after I had been doing blood tests in a rural area with some Zairian medical colleagues, they went off with some of the local girls. They slept with them, and only one of them used a condom.” When he asked them about the risk, “they laughed, saying that you couldn’t give up living just because you might get a disease.” Yes, casual sex is considered by many to be “living”—fun, entertainment.
As in many other parts of the world, youths are particularly prone to promiscuity. A recent survey conducted among 377 youths in South Africa revealed that over 75 percent had engaged in sexual intercourse. Similarly, a missionary in south-central Africa observed that there are “few girls aged 15 who are not yet pregnant.” He adds: “You see a young, single girl, and you think to yourself, ‘Next year at this time, she will be pregnant.’”
However, in the case of Africa, there are other factors that have accelerated the spread of AIDS.
“As long as large numbers of men in their twenties and thirties are forced to work away from their wives and families—whether it be in urban factories, mines, plantations or on the trucking routes—the spread of Aids will continue unabated,” says the journal Africa South. African migrants endure a tough life. Separated from their wives and families, many struggle to find accommodations and employment in the cities. According to the journal African Affairs, the stress of trying to support himself and a family back home causes the migrant to experience “frustration and a sense of inadequacy.” The journal adds that this often encourages the migrant to “renege on his responsibilities entirely.”
Truck routes have particularly been singled out as lethal conduits through which AIDS spreads. As one trucker put it, “I must make sure that wherever I go, I have a girlfriend to look after me.” A typical breeding ground for AIDS is a compound in an East African slum where 600 prostitutes ply their trade. Many of their customers are truckers who drop in for what they call a tea break. HIV-infection rates among these prostitutes has been measured at over 80 percent. Meanwhile, the infected truckers move on to their next “tea break” and eventually back to their homes—all the while spreading the lethal affliction they carry.
Then there is civil war and political strife—the spawning grounds for millions of refugees. “Where there is political and civil war,” observes AIDS expert Alan Whiteside, “there is a breakdown in normal social behaviour. . . . Refugees moving from place to place may provide a pool of infection and they too are likely to have more sexual partners.”
Cash-strapped Africa cannot cope with its medical problems. “In many African countries the amount of money budgeted per person per year for health care is less than the cost of a single blood test for the AIDS virus,” explains the brochure Understanding & Preventing AIDS. Similarly, Keith Edelston, author of the book AIDS—Countdown to Doomsday, explains that “even soap to sterilize equipment, or ordinary household bleach to mop up spills, are often just not available.”
The practice in some African countries of reusing syringes on many patients prompted Edelston to warn: “Be careful if needing injections . . . in Africa . . . Demand a new syringe and needle taken from sterile wrappers while you watch.”
The risk of accidental infection is causing a serious drain on medical professionals. Two doctors attached to a South African hospital sustained needle scratches while treating AIDS patients. They became infected and died. As a result, six foreign doctors resigned from that hospital.
Under these conditions, it is little wonder that many are taking a second look at the practice of transfusing one of the most virulent propagators of AIDS—blood! “Contaminated blood remains an important mode of spread,” says the South African Medical Journal, adding that “there is still virtually no screening in central Africa and at least 60% of donor blood is infected.”
Thus, already beleaguered by many tragedies, Africa is suffering again. And among the most tragic consequences of the AIDS plague in Africa is what has happened to women and children.
The Innocent Who Suffer
Lucy is an innocent victim of AIDS. She was infected by her promiscuous husband. Now, a widow at 23 years of age, Lucy struggles with her feelings. “I am still trying to rationalise whether to love his memory or to hate him for infecting me,” she says. Lucy’s sentiments are typical of the intense pain and suffering that AIDS inflicts upon its innocent victims.
“Although HIV in developing countries will affect women and men in roughly equal numbers,” says the journal The World Today, “the impact on women is likely to be . . . disproportionately harsh.” This is especially true of Africa, where women—severely disadvantaged by illiteracy, poverty, and migrating husbands—suffer in silence.
But the most tragic mark left by AIDS is upon children. UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) estimates that as 2.9 million women die of AIDS in Africa this decade, up to 5.5 million children will be orphaned. An official from one country that has at least 40,000 AIDS orphans reports that already “there are villages . . . of children only.”
Typical of the dilemma are infected mothers with their infected children. The South African Medical Journal explains that “a question commonly raised by a mother of a seropositive infant is that of ‘who will die first?’”
No wonder many women feel vulnerable to AIDS. Zambian doctor M. Phiri says: “We get the women asking if there is something they can take to prevent themselves from catching this disease . . . There is this fear that while they may look after themselves personally, their partner, their husband, may not be as faithful. This worries them.”
So, what can a married person do if it is discovered that his or her partner has been promiscuous? If the course of forgiveness and marital reconciliation is followed, the guilty partner should agree to being medically tested for the possibility of harboring HIV. (Compare Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.) Until the results are known, marriage mates facing such a situation may decide to abstain from sex or at least take protective measures against infection.
Given the long incubation period of AIDS, young persons contemplating marriage should also be careful before committing themselves to marrying someone who has a morally dubious past, even if he or she is currently living by Christian standards. Concerning this risk group, a Tanzanian AIDS expert, Dr. S. M. Tibangayuka, suggests that young people take the precaution of being “tested for HIV before they get married.”
In reality, as long as there is AIDS in Africa and, indeed, the rest of the world, innocent victims, including spouses and children, will suffer.
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There are many reasons why AIDS is taking such a fearful toll in Africa