HIV in Africa: Myth vs Fact
The existence of HIV and AIDS may be widely known, but there are plenty of misconceptions lingering about the viruses. This epidemic is serious and scary for many people, sometimes causing excessive stigma. HIV is a global issue but remains most largely concentrated in underdeveloped regions, most notably, Africa.

Knowledge about HIV, early detection, diagnosis and treatment has improved markedly since it was first recorded. Below are some commonly accepted beliefs regarding AIDS and HIV in Africa and a breakdown of the myths and facts associated with each.

HIV-Positive Individuals Are Highly Contagious

Though HIV can be spread from person to person, it does not occur as easily as some may believe.

MYTHS — HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, skin-to-skin contact, or sharing common facilities such as bathrooms, kitchens or living/working spaces. It is safe to casually touch an HIV positive individual, or even share a drink with them.

FACTS — HIV can be spread through only these specific bodily fluids: blood, semen and pre-seminal fluid, breast milk, and vaginal and/or anal fluids. Even when these types of contact have been made between an infected person and a non-infected person, transmission is not absolutely certain.

Spreading HIV is Reckless Behavior That is Easy to Prevent

MYTHS — People who have been diagnosed with HIV infect other people intentionally and should be more careful in stopping the spread of HIV.

FACTS — Many infected people do not know that they are HIV positive. In fact, nearly 70 percent of individuals living with the virus are unaware. Symptoms of HIV can be very subtle, so when a person becomes infected it can easily go undetected. Many people living in Africa do not have access to contraception, testing, or treatment due to poverty and thus, the spread of HIV is not due to reckless behavior.

Contracting HIV Can Be Easily Prevented by Living a Respectable Lifestyle

MYTHS — HIV and AIDS are the results of unprotected or gay sex, or from injecting drugs with infected needles. Women, straight men and people who do not use drugs cannot get HIV or AIDS.

FACTS — While the most common methods of transmission are through sharing infected needles and unprotected sex (for both women and men), other methods exist. Mothers in Africa have been known to spread the virus to their babies through pregnancy, birth, or breast milk. If a non-positive person has an open wound, they may contract HIV if in contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.

HIV in Africa is Due to Irresponsible Africans and Therefore It Is Their Responsibility

MYTHS — HIV and AIDS only exist in Africa and other poor countries; western countries should not be concerned.

FACTS — Seventy percent of all HIV cases are in Africa, while 30 percent are not in Africa. Swaziland, Africa has an infection rate of more than one-fourth of the population, and continent-wide, roughly one million deaths occur on an annual basis.

Though HIV in Africa is much more prominent than in other parts of the world, it takes effort and support from those in power to end the epidemic and provide care for those suffering in all parts of the world.

There is No Hope for the Deadly HIV Epidemic in Africa

MYTHS — Once HIV is contracted, the immune system shuts down, the quality of life degrades and life expectancy significantly decreases.

FACTS — HIV only progresses to AIDS when left untreated. Treatment for HIV does exist, suppressing the infection and allowing for a long and healthy life for those infected. However, treatment for HIV in Africa is less available.

In the southern parts of Africa alone, about one million HIV/AIDS-related deaths are recorded annually, and the regional life expectancies range from 49-54 years old due to HIV/AIDS. To combat this, UNAIDS developed a plan to end the AIDS epidemic by the year 2030. The steps include early detection, immediate and affordable treatment, gender equality, family planning, and an emphasis on the most susceptible populations.

The PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) has brought hope to ending the epidemic, and in 2017, decreased the number of newly reported HIV infections in young females by as much as 40 percent.

Moving forward with HIV in Africa, there is great hope in combatting the infection. As more medical knowledge is gained worldwide and acceptance of infected individuals is increasing, so is the quality of life for those living with HIV. The continued attention on the spread and prevention of HIV will be a substantial contributor to the successful end of this global health risk.

– Heather Benton

Photo: Flickr

Student Essay Contests Spread HIV Awareness in Tanzania
The most recent USAID report on HIV awareness in Tanzania shows improvement, with more than 1.8 million people in the 2016 fiscal year receiving HIV testing and counseling. The local nonprofit Pretty Development for Poverty Reduction (PDPR) is focusing on HIV awareness outside of U.S. intervention, though, and one of the ways they are doing so is having secondary education students in Tanzania compete in an essay contest about the risks of the disease and how to prevent it.

Though they operate across Tanzania, PDPR is based out of the Njombe district, where HIV is more prevalent than anywhere else in the country. For reference, in Zanzibar, prevalence is .2 percent, while in Njombe, it is 15.4 percent.

More than one million people were living with HIV/AIDS in Tanzania in 2015. This number is high, but new infections have declined 20 percent in the past five years, and there are half as many annual fatalities now than in 2010.  This indicates that awareness and prevention programs are benefiting the country.

In addition to writing about HIV/AIDS, the students are encouraged to explore the topics of globalization and climate change. PDPR hopes this range of issues will help young citizens gain determination to develop a better world.

PDPR focuses their efforts in rural areas where they can reach the women, children, small-scale farmers and businessmen, the most marginalized and impoverished groups in Tanzania.

They work under the Njombe District Non-governmental Organization (NJODINGO), and as they continue to allocate funds hope to organize vocational training programs, farmers organizations, civic education and a radio station.

The essay contest, spreading HIV awareness in Tanzania, is one of many ways that PDPR hopes to instill a sense of civic responsibility in the youth of the Njombe district and the whole country. Through implementing new ways to achieve awareness, only positive change can result.

Brooke Clayton

Photo: Flickr

hiv transmission
This August, Uganda passed a landmark HIV bill which criminalizes HIV transmission. Experts say that with this law, the dreams of an “AIDS-free generation” have evaporated. With threats of fines and jail times, many HIV positive people will be dissuaded from taking proactive measures for their health.

According to the new bill, HIV sufferers cannot be legally charged with a crime if they didn’t knowingly infect someone with HIV. Thus, many people are now refusing to get tested as a loophole around the law.

Despite the United States, a large funder of HIV programs in Uganda, publicly denouncing the bill since its conception, the Ugandan president has still signed it into law. Even with these multinational efforts from the U.S. and elsewhere, the HIV infection rate has been steadily increasing in the past several years. The overall HIV positive rate is approximately 6.5 percent of the population, but higher among certain at-risk groups.

Among those specifically targeted by the bill are sexual assault survivors and pregnant women who are required to undergo routine blood testing for HIV. Pregnant women with HIV have been the victims of forced sterilization in the past, and the lack of privacy concerns are causing fears that these cases will increase.

While there are measures directly targeting women in this bill, the effects on both men and women are troublesome. Experts warn of the slippery slope of discrimination that this bill will cause. HIV/AIDS is already highly stigmatized in Uganda and this bill is thought likely to worsen the stigmas, shame and misconceptions surrounding the disease.

Many global health advocates view this bill as a setback for the HIV awareness community in Uganda. With a steady increase in the past few years of HIV positive rates, this law is projected to exacerbate the problem.

Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Africa Science News, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Devex

international condom day
Efforts to increase condom usage are picking up across Kenya, one of which involves limousines and flower petals. Over this past Valentine’s Day weekend, Faith Ndiwa launched her condom delivery service and so far has helped more than 4,000 clients. The condoms are usually delivered on motorbike, though the limousines and bouquets of flowers were offered as a Valentine’s special.

Ndiwa was inspired to start her business after several of her friends died from HIV, she told BBC. “Most of them died of AIDS because they shied off buying condoms,” she said. In Kenya, sex and condom usage remain a taboo topic, which inhibits many from buying condoms out of embarrassment.

Though prevalence rates have dropped from 7.2 percent to 5.6 percent since 2008, more than 1.2 million Kenyans are living with HIV, says a recent government survey. The capital city has a higher prevalence rate, however, as nearly 8.6 percent of Nairobi’s population are infected with the disease. As Nairobi County government health director Samuel Ochola reports to the International Business Times (IBT), Nairobi sees about 13,510 new adult infections per year and 1,715 new cases in children.

Ndiwa’s business joins several initiatives already in place around Nairobi to raise awareness and encourage condom usage. February 13, 2014 marked the first ever International Condom Day in Nairobi. The National Aids Council (NACC) and the National AIDS and STI Control Program (NASCOP) embarked on a campaign to distribute one million condoms across the metropolis.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation-Kenya (AHF-K) also capitalized on the Valentine weekend to promote safe sex practices. The non-governmental organization distributed 200,000 condoms and aimed to test more than 5,000 people for HIV. According to the IBT, the group hopes to test at least 250,000 people by year’s end and dispense four million free condoms.

The nation’s First Lady has also gotten involved in HIV prevention. In late January, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta launched her “Beyond Zero” campaign, which aims to improve maternal and child health outcomes and “accelerate the implementation of the national plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children,” says United Nations AIDS. The campaign is part of a strategic framework to monitor and prevent HIV released on World AIDS Day in 2013. The First Lady is putting on a First Lady Half Marathon on March 9, with registration fees benefitting the “Beyond Zero” campaign.

These efforts have made a noticeable difference. “There is an increased use in condoms which has greatly contributed to the reduction of those infected with the HIV virus,” reports NASCOP deputy director Martin Sirengo to “Five years ago, only one out of 10 people used condoms and today approximately seven people use condoms.” While this is good news, efforts such as those of Faith Ndiwa and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta are needed to further encourage safe sex practices and reduce HIV throughout Nairobi and all of Kenya.

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: BBC, All Africa, International Business Times, UN AIDS
Photo: MD Connects