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Medicine Alone Cannot Stop the Spread of HIV/Aids in Sub-Saharan Africa Essay

If the world was to be made a better place to live, then only two things stand on the way to that realization: abject poverty and disease. In fact, it is not surprising that the two are some the major concerns of the 21st century in many countries. The UN, in its part, identifies fighting HIV/Aids globally and abject poverty in third world countries as the roadmap to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (United Nations Industrial Development Organization, 2004, 46).

However, the reality in the developing countries point to a glaring truth: the fight has a long way to go. Indeed, the present generation of the third world’s suffering masses inherited their misery from their predecessors, and there is a likelihood that they will pass on their woes to their children. In the fight against disease, it is apparent that HIV/Aids has claimed the priority previously given to malaria. In Africa, especially, most non-governmental organizations are involved in helping the continent grapple with its burden of Aids patients.

Almost daily, the UN, The World Bank and donors from the developed west dispatch consignments of relief aid in the form of antiretroviral drugs to Africa to help Africa fight the pandemic. Regardless, it is becoming increasingly clear that in Africa, the world is collectively losing the war against HIV/Aids. Instead of decreasing, infections in most countries are increasing, while more and more people continue to die from HIV related complications. The present situation is a strong indication that the approach taken to fight the infection is not working.

Much of the efforts are directed toward treating the problem, while ignoring a host of other factors which hinder successful containment of the disease. They include cultural practices, poor leadership, ignorance, grand official corruption as well as poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa, especially, these milestones undermine any efforts to fight the disease. In reference to the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, the paper argues that medicine alone cannot rid humanity of the Aids scourge.

As far as HIV/Aids is concerned, all that medicine can do is treat symptoms, but not prevent its spread. In this regard, Aids continue to rampage because resources are directed towards addressing infection cases, while ignoring the factors that lead to more infections. Even if medicine was to completely cure the disease, new cases will always arise. Thus, the major weakness of a clinical approach to fighting HIV/Aids in sub-Saharan Africa is that it only tackles a fraction of the contributing factors, but attempts to help those already infected (McKee, et al, 2004, 297).

Other than preventing mother-child infection during birth, medicine does little to address the Aids scourge in the wider context. While it targets victims, it doesn’t address the cultural and socio-economic factors that continue to add more victims to the fold. Surprisingly enough, most of these contributing factors have no medical dimension at all, leading to the conclusion that more than medicine alone can contain the Aids scare in sub-Saharan Africa. Poor leadership among Africa’s political class makes the fight against HIV/Aids a hopeless endeavor (Europa Publications, 2004, 25).

Their lack of national vision ensures that pertinent issues related to the eradication of preventable diseases are ignored. As a result, poor policies are formulated, which are equally poorly implemented. It is strange that since 1979 when the first cases of the infection was diagnosed among gays in New York, USA, 30 years later, the scourge is hitting hardest thousands of miles away, where gay relationships are a taboo. On the contrary, the developed nations have successfully contained its spread, which had little to do with advanced medicine.

The underlying fact is that medicine neither cures nor prevents one from contracting the viruses. It therefore follows that the efforts that led to the successful containment of the infection in the west had little to do with medicine. On the other hand, good governance and effective policies could be attributed to their success. In stark contrast, most sub-Sahara African countries have no clear policies on how to fight the scourge and prevent further infections. Related to poor governance is rampant corruption in government.

The drive to fight Aids is largely funded by donor aid. However, management of the funds is left to the beneficiaries, whose lack of commitment to the cause makes them to divert resources meant to help victims. Over the years, corruption in Africa has evolved into a mafia-like cartel, with a wide network of connections through which finances are siphoned from public coffers. When corruption becomes a culture, as already it is in sub-Saharan Africa, resources meant for a national cause always find their way into private hands.

It has been widely argued that Africa suffers not because of limited resources, but rather because those resources are misused to serve the interests of a few people. It s the same with resources meant to fight HIV/Aids. Regardless how much the World Bank and donors pump into Africa, the problem is going to persist as long as the corruption exists. The argument that Africans should be left to run their show on grounds of autonomy is guise to allow corrupt individuals in control.

The hopelessness of the continent is the realization that donors must budget for the expenditure to the last coin, otherwise they should be willing to keep a constant cash-flow to sustain the greed of embezzlers. Cultural practices are the greatest obstacle in the war against the spread of HIV/Aids (Baxen and Breidlid, 2009, 33). In some parts of sub-Sahara African countries such as Kenya and Uganda, female circumcision is a common practice in most communities. In Kenya, for instance, genital mutilation is the pre-requisite to marriage, and as such, all girls must face the knife to get a husband.

The practice is deeply rooted in the Maasai community, where girls are snatched from school to be circumcised before they are hurriedly married off. However, the greatest danger is not marriage, but rather the circumcision itself. It is not conducted by a doctor, but by a local midwife or herbalist, who knows little about sterilization and hygienic handling of incision instruments. Consequently, the initiates share one knife, thereby increasing chances of infection. Similarly, polygamy and wife inheritance practices is a great danger.

Among the Luo tribe of Kenya, widows are inherited by their husband’s brothers, regardless the cause of death. It is through such practices that the pandemic spread rapidly in the community, wiping out whole families in quick successions. In Swaziland, the king himself is the trendsetter of polygamy. He holds the annual Dance of the Reeds, whose sole purpose is for King Mswati to choose an additional wife from among the virgin dancers. The political system of the country is monarchial, and the king has repeatedly managed to defeat dissenters and activists opposed to his excesses.

Thus, if the very leaders who are supposed to give direction are lost in cultural practices that promote the spread of the virus, then no medicine will stop it from claiming the masses who look up to such leaders. Like in a battle, the folly of a general is the doom of a whole platoon. Now, Swaziland is a tiny country surrounded by S. Africa, whose president recently raised eyebrows (and nods of agreement among polygamists) when he took his fourth wife, who until then, properly speaking, was his concubine.

Earlier on, he had surprised many when he agreed that he had lavished his sexual prowess on an HIV positive female friend, but calmed people’s fears that he had taken a shower immediately afterwards- to prevent infection. When such hogwash comes from a head of state, it reflects the pathetic situation of the whole nation. How can such a leader implement any effective policy, when he believes in myths and superstitious convictions? Therefore, the cure for Aids, ironically, is not medicine: it is changing the beliefs and attitudes of the people. There is nothing that blinds like ignorance.

The West is free from the tentacles of the Aids scourge largely because their populations are literate, and aware of effective prevention measures. On the contrary, high illiteracy in sub-Saharan Africa has made many sufferers victims of ignorance (Coriat, 2008, 147). In fact, literacy levels reflect the socio-economic status of a population. The living conditions of most Africans is largely pegged on their level of education. In relation to HIV/Aids, lack of information due to the inability to read or write, exposes many people to situations where they could contract the virus without their knowledge.

For instance, people share cutting objects such as razors, knives and needles; oblivious of the dangers to which they expose themselves. In addition, information about HIV/Aids is mostly available in foreign languages, which only a few, the educated ones, could understand. Thus, those who are illiterate, and who comprises the majority in sub-Saharan Africa, are denied access to information that could save their lives. Lastly, sub-Saharan Africa is staggering in abject poverty (United Nations Industrial Development Organization, 2004, 87).

Poverty contributes to the spread of the infection as many young women engage in commercial sex to make ends meet. In most towns, the mushrooming of slums is attributed to the influx of jobseekers who come to make a living (Brower and Chalk, 2003, 40). However, Africa is generally characterized by high unemployment rates. Consequently, failure to secure a job leads many to slum life, and for most ladies, prostitution (Zichichi, et al, 2001, 627). The danger of prostitution is due to the fact that commercial sex workers do not choose their clients.

As it were, they are picked, laid and paid, period. Even if their customers were infected, they can do little to protect themselves, since the ‘terms of engagement’ are determined by the amount the customer is willing to pay. If one decides not to use a condom, then the price is bigger to account for the risk involved. However, it is common knowledge that those who are aware of their positive status willingly infect others, and therefore could pay as much as they can afford to derive pleasure and, as a bonus, recruit one more victim into their society of the infected.

In conclusion, the nature of the spread of HIV/Aids is much overwhelming, requiring more than medical intervention for its prevention. Many socio-cultural, political and economic factors contribute to its spread, which must be addressed to effectively contain the pandemic. In sub-Saharan Africa, poverty, corruption in government, cultural practices such female circumcision, polygamy and wife inheritance, as well as poor leadership are responsible for the persistence of HIV/Aids. Thus, concentrating on medicine alone could is not going to save the masses from the incurable virus.

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