‘NewsHour’ Examines Senegal’s Successes in Fighting AIDS Despite Low Income, Poor Education
Even though Senegal has "low income, high illiteracy and some traditional customs that can spread the AIDS virus," the conservative, mostly Islamic country has a relatively low HIV infection rate of 1.4%, compared to the 30% rates in many other African nations, correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports in the fourth part of the "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" series on AIDS in Africa. Part of the reason for the nation's success in dealing with AIDS is that it has targeted the commercial sex trade. Even before AIDS arrived in Senegal, the nation required prostitutes to register with clinics and then return for regular medical checkups. Among prostitutes, the HIV infection rate is 15%, a rate that has remained steady since the early 1990s. However, the system is not "foolproof," and there are an unknown number of unregistered sex workers, especially in rural areas. Other people point to the nation's religion as a reason why HIV has not spread as widely in Senegal as it has in other areas of the world. Islam "prohibits sexual deviance" and even though it permits polygamy, it requires all spouses to be faithful. In addition, Islamic leaders acknowledge the "threat of HIV" from the pulpit and joined the government to declare AIDS a "national priority." Because of their efforts, "ordinary Sengalese ... have been bombarded by AIDS awareness campaigns."
Worries Still Remain
Even with a relatively low infection rate, some experts are concerned about the spread of HIV in rural areas, where more than half of the population lives. Sengalese living in rural areas are "less likely than their urban counterparts to talk frankly about sex, and they have more economic hardships and fewer resources." There, "AIDS seems like a distant problem." Further, men "fit into a classic high-risk group for HIV in Africa" -- because they travel for extended periods in search of work, they are "prime customers for the commercial sex industry." Public health workers worry that "most people in Senegal have never personally met anyone with AIDS" and "worry about the potential for complacency," but those are concerns that "most parts of Africa, overwhelmed by AIDS, would gladly trade" (de Sam Lazaro, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 5/17). To read a transcript of this report, click here, and to hear the report in RealAudio, click here. Note: You must have RealPlayer to listen to the audio report.