South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi recently released troubling statistics which show that 28 percent of his country’s schoolgirls have HIV, seven times the rate of their male counterparts. In an assembly of the National Council of Provinces, Motsoaledi revealed that these figures “‘destroyed his soul’ and blamed the ‘sugar daddies’ infecting young girls with the virus,” as he advocated government policies to stop such predation.
Motsoaledi points to the drastic difference in HIV rates between boys and girls to illustrate his argument; he argues that if schoolchildren were passing the virus to each other, then rates among boys would not be so much lower. However, it is not clear whether this discrepancy is due to “sugar daddies” as Motsoaledi claims, or to the fact that males are less likely to contract HIV from a positive female than the reverse. Some sources dispute these figures, asserting that they are solely representative of “a small number of schools in the Natal Midlands” and that real figures are closer to 12 percent, down from the previous year’s 14 percent.
South Africa has struggled historically with HIV, and in 2009 began one of the biggest anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment programs in the world. But in the following two years, rates of infection among women aged 30-40 increased. Allegedly, these numbers are due to more people who were infected at a young age moving into older age groups. In order to prevent children from being exposed to one of the worst possible viruses known to humanity, proper education and prevention programs must be implemented in all countries. US foreign aid helps pay for these kinds of initiatives, but there is always more to help with. This might decrease the rate of HIV in South African schoolgirls.
– Jake Simon