Australian Network Reports on African Attitudes Toward HIV/AIDS
Australia's " Dateline," an international current affairs television program on the SBS network, reported last week on social attitudes toward HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan African countries. When "Dateline" asked South African Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang whether South Africans "understand" that HIV causes AIDS, she responded, "South Africans have never doubted that. ... Somebody misquoted ... president [ Thabo Mbeki] and started to plough in some of our people's minds that they are beginning to doubt, but South Africans have never doubted that." However, Tshabalala-Msimang noted, "[B]ut I think also [South Africans] are very much convinced that even if you knew HIV causes AIDS, if you are forced to go be a sex worker because you are unemployed, it is difficult for you as a woman to demand to use a condom." A local taxi driver in South Africa noted that if female prostitutes are willing to have sex without a condom, they are paid more than if they request the use of a condom. In addition to taking a pay cut for using a condom -- $1.50 with versus $5 without -- prostitutes must pay for the condoms, which each cost about 60 cents in South Africa, according to the taxi driver. A local man interviewed by "Dateline" indicated that after suffering years of "oppression and discontent," some South Africans are willing to believe that the AIDS epidemic is a conspiracy "to get rid of us poor people so that the rich can enjoy life."
Issue of Promiscuity
"Dateline" asked Botswana's Minister of Health Joy Phumaphi whether the spread of HIV in Africa indicates that Africans are more "promiscuous" than people in other regions of the world. Phumaphi said, "It is not promiscuity as such. It is that people do not protect themselves as they should. I do not believe that people in Botswana or in the rest of Africa for that matter ... have more sexual partners than other parts of the world." Dr. Omu Anzala of the Kenyan AIDS Vaccine Initiative concurred, "I don't think the epidemic we are experiencing has anything to do with promiscuity." Phumaphi added, "The major factor that has contributed to this high rate of infection is the stigma that has been attached to the HIV/AIDS epidemic ever since it started around the world. People have associated it with loose morals and because of this most members of the population feel they cannot become victims of the epidemic because their moral standards are high or they are morally upright."
Tshabalala-Msimang said of the lawsuit brought by 40 pharmaceutical companies against South Africa over a law that would allow the country to import and manufacture cheaper generic AIDS drugs, "They are saying to us our patent legislation which we drafted and formulated is unconstitutional. Now I don't know what is unconstitutional about your saying you want to access drugs in a way which you can afford." Phumaphi added, "I would also like every citizen of this planet to appreciate that the provision of drugs, the development of a vaccine, the research for a cure, is not the responsibility of the sick or the infected or affected alone, but it is a moral imperative for all the citizens of this planet." Dr. Harriet Mayanja-Kizza of Uganda's Mulago Hospital asked, "Why can't [antiretrovirals] cost about the same as anti-TB treatment, like treatment for malaria, like treatment for typhoid, so that it is within the affordable range?" "Dateline" concludes, "It is clear many Africans don't care what the rest of the world thinks of Mbeki's claims on the link between HIV and AIDS. They are more concerned with fighting poverty and trying to understand why AIDS has chosen their continent" (Mutua, "Dateline" transcript, SBS, 2/28). To access the full transcript of the report, enter http://126.96.36.199/dateline/test/index.php3 into your Web browser.