Monday, October 26, 2009

AIDS in Africa

I am taking the class Current Social problems this semester and I am reading a chapter in our textbook on physical and mental health, and it had this little article/ thought-promoting section call Social Problems in Global Perspective. It is great, so I am just going to share it with you all. Of course, due credit will be given to the author- John J. Macionis, Social Problems 3rd Edition (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc., 2008), 271.

"Brigitt Syamaleuwe is a forty-year-old woman living in the African nation of Zambia. Several years ago, her life changed when she learned that she was HIV-positive. Like anyone else, her first question was, how could this have happened? Brigitte had never had sex with anyone other than her husband, so she quickly came to the conclusion that it was he who had infected her.

Angrily, she confronted him. He was visibly shaken, but he reacted by accusing her of infidelity. Only after several weeks was he willing to admit that he had been unfaithful, had become infected with HIV, and then infected his wife. They knew, at this point, that there was no cure. But they decided to devote the remainder of their lives to educating others about the dangers of HIV.

As explained in Chapter 4 ("Gender Inequality") low-income countries are typically strongly patriarchal. Women in these nations have little say in what their husbands or boyfriends do. Many men have traditionally seen little wrong with having extramarital sex, often with prostitutes, even though they now know that this behavior places them, their wives, and perhaps other women at high risk for infection with HIV.

Another factor that contributes to the AIDS epidemic in Africa and elsewhere is that many men- sometimes even men who know they are infected with HIV- do not use condoms when they have sex. Some women may not insist that that men use condoms, either because they don't know that their partners are being unfaithful or because the men threaten violence if they don't get their way.

To make matters worse, traditional laws make it easy for men to divorce their wives for being unfaithful, but women have a hard time doing the same thing. Even women who can get a divorce usually think twice about it because a court often ends up giving men control over family property. In short, divorce often means women fall into poverty.

In poor countries, becoming infected with HIV usually means that death comes within several years. Well-off people with HIV in the United States now rely on new and expensive drugs to prolong their lives for a decade or more. These drugs are becoming less expensive and therefore more widespread in poor countries. But they are still out of reach for most of the world's poor, who get little or no medial attention.

What strategies can be used to help the world's poor women protect themselves? One possible answer is the female condom... which offers protection from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although the female condom is gaining popularity in Africa, many men object to it and the cost is often too high.

The larger answer to the problem of AIDS lies in research to discover a cure for this deadly disease. In addition, the death toll would come down if societies could reduce patriarchy. Greater political and economic power would give women the ability to say no to sex, to insist on condom use, and even to demand that their men be faithful."
sources: Based on Schoofs (1999), Singer (2001), and Altman (2005).

Several points:
-First off, isn't it interesting that the decision to have "safe" or "protected" sex is usually in the hands of the male as female condoms are more rare and more expensive? So, in a patriarchal society, besides not being able to say "no" many times, women cannot even protect themselves. On that same note, how is it that men object to women protecting themselves?! Especially when so often it is the MAN who infects his wife?
-Second, Unfaithfulness needs to go way out of style. It is currently seen as the "in" thing here in the United States and it now seems that those who are faithful (both men and women, because women can be just as unfaithful as men) are the exception and not the expectation.

Overall, there are just so many little things that all affect each other with this kind of problem. But I really like this little blurb because if focuses on one possible solution that I believe could really help decrease the spread of AIDS in Africa- the empowerment and education of Women.


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