AIDS in Africa Research Paper

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AIDS in Afica

HIV / AIDS in Africa

An Overview of how this Terrible Disease has Rampaged the Population in Africa and what might be done about it in the Future.

The spread of AIDS has reached epidemic proportions on the African Continent. There are many factors that can be attributed to the spread of this phenomenon. Lack of modern health care facilities and trained medical professionals is often cited as a cause as well as a source that hinders modern treatment options for infected Africans. However, this is only one factor among several and other third world nations have avoided the AIDS epidemic. Another factor that is at play is the lack of education about the disease and its method of transmission. This factor especially affects young women who generally know little about family planning or how to practice safe sex. Finally, another major factor that will be discussed is that lack of availability of basic preventative resources such as condoms. To change the situation in Africa, it will take an effective intervention among both the private and public sector. Yet these organizations require additional resources such as funding and qualified staffs. However, there are promising developments that could act to deter the spread of the disease in the future.

HIV and African Women

Although women comprise roughly about half of all people infected with HIV globally, the percentage varies widely among different regions. The highest proportion of women with the disease is found in sub-Saharan Africa which is nearly sixty percent of the population (Iwelunmor and Collins). The exorbitant percentage of women who are infected with HIV in these regions, are generally thought to be a reflection of the local culture. The cultures in these regions tend to place a lessor value on women in the relation to their social standing men. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, women are commonly known to become infected in their teens, while men typically do not contract the disease until they reach their twenties.

One explanation for the different ages among the sexes for initial contraction is that young women in these areas may be effectively forced by their family to marry young, a practice that may expose them to sexually transmitted diseases at an early age. Furthermore, in many areas much of the population still practices and lives by tribal customs. For example, some boys in these populations can get married as young as ten years old, have multiple wives, and women are generally considered more as a property rather than as part of a loving relationship.

Women in tribal cultures such as this generally have few rights under the law and are commonly considered by society as only sexual objects for men. It is most frequently the case that the men who collect multiple wives are often view as being prosperous or successful. As a result of all these individual factors, there is an overall trend of high levels of gender inequality. This in turn often leads to the "feminization" of poverty which also has been demonstrated to put women at higher risk of contracting the disease (Shisana, Rice and Nompumelelo).

One of the most alarming considerations in regards to the high percentage of women in Africa, who have contracted the disease, is that many of them are likely to pass the infection down to their children. It has been estimated that there are nearly two million children in Africa who are currently living with the HIV virus. Many of these mothers are themselves oblivious to the fact that they have even contracted the virus, and unknowingly pass the disease down to their children who will almost certainly die prematurely. An overwhelming majority of the infected children live in sub-Saharan Africa, which has one of the highest rates of infection for women in the world, and have been exposed to the virus by their mothers during pregnancy or after birth during breast feeding. These children are forced to suffer through a short and painful existence to no fault of their own.

Local public health organizations lack both adequate funding as well as sufficient human resources to treat patients effectively. Furthermore the restrictions apply to the attempts to control the epidemic through education; although prevention is the least expensive method into which to treat the epidemic however it has shown poor results (Cohen). Since AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, using condoms during intercourse is a simple and incredibly effective prevention technique that can help mitigate the further spread of the virus. Organizations like Doctors without Borders, United Nations AIDS Program, and the World Health Organization have often implemented a condom strategy as the central component in their fight against the war on HIV and AIDS in Africa. Organizations, such as these, have instituted countless programs on contraception to educate the indigenous population with mixed results. Success in programs such as these is dependent among the population being receptive to the content of the programs. However, public opinion polls actually show that the salience of the disease is actually fairly low in many parts of Africa; below the concerns related to unemployment for example (Justesen).

Another form of prevention comes from antiretroviral therapy (ART) which is a drug that has been injected into women and children in high risk areas. These injections provide a level of defense against the contraction of the disease and been shown to slow the spread of the disease. The focus on the treatments have been historically targeted towards women and children, who are particularly vulnerable, however new research suggests that engaging men in the prevention and care for HIV / AIDS can also have positive results (Mills, Beyrer and Birungi). Even though these treatments have proven to be effective, they are only a small piece of a more comprehensive solution that requires governmental leadership to administer. Furthermore, these treatments require a great deal of resources to administer and there has been relatively limited funding allocated to these treatments.

Another relatively simple way to mitigate further spread of the disease is through testing which makes recipients aware of whether they are living with the virus or not. As previously mentioned, many mothers pass the virus to their children unknowingly. Therefore, simply knowing that you have contracted the virus would make it more likely that you would take steps to prevent the suffering of your offspring. In some areas, the average life expectancy has tumbled by more than twenty years in the most heavily affected areas; in sub-Saharan it has actually been estimated that the growth rate is somewhere in the neighborhood of negative one percent as direct result of the disease (Johnson). This has tremendous ramifications on the population and even the local economies. As a result, local governments have finally significantly increased the number of free voluntary counseling and testing centers (VCT). These test facilities will give individuals the ability to find out their HIV status, and simply knowing their status has shown to further prevent the spread of the disease. Furthermore, if the individuals have contracted the disease, most testing centers also offer counseling and other resources to the infected victims so that they are aware how they can best handle their condition.

Yet, despite this increase in AIDS testing and treatment centers, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there are nearly two million people in South Africa that are presently living with the disease. The explanation for this alarming statistic has been multifaceted. Many argue that since the antiretroviral treatments have only been allowed in the country since 2003 that there has not been enough time for the results to be seen. Even the introduction of these treatments required immense pressure from activist worldwide and is a prime example of the resistance that can be found on the local level in regards to public officials. For example, although these treatments have been easily assessable to the in country for years the government has been very slow to distribute them to their citizens. However, after much effort, AIDS policies have finally become part of what is considered "normal" politics in Africa in some of the most highly affected areas (Youde).

This historically slow distribution of treatments or preventive strategies is undoubtedly connected to the way that elected officials view the crisis. Many officials hold unconventional views about some of the facts about causes of AIDS. For example, for many years the government promoted proper nutrition as a means of treatment as opposed to antiretroviral therapy or any other measure. However, after years of trial and error, a realistic view of the situation has finally reached many governmental leaders and they have been more cooperative with external agencies in forming more effective policies to combat the further spread of the disease. This is one of the most optimistic developments that have occurred within the last few years. Foreign governments and non-profit organizations can have a significant impact on prevention and containment; however the most effective solution will undoubtedly come from the regional leadership of the…

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