Doctor Faces ‘Skepticism’ in Fight Against AIDS in South Africa’s Hlabisa Region, New York Times Series Reports
The New York Times' ongoing series "Death and Denial" today profiles Dr. Neil E. Jorgensen, "a white, Zulu-speaking" physician who operates a "busy clinic" in Mtubatuba, South Africa, in the Hlabisa Health District. In 1990, after seeing his first AIDS patient in Durban, the closest city to Mtubatuba, Jorgensen returned to the town and found that about 40% of workers at the local sugar mill had been treated for a sexually transmitted disease in the previous year. He then tested those who had signs of infection such as swollen glands. At a time when the estimated infection rate in the surrounding KwaZulu-Natal Province was 2%, Jorgensen found that 6% of the workers he tested were HIV-positive. In the following years, Jorgensen "met lots of skepticism" as he tried to educate the workers about condom use and monogamy and even hired AIDS counselors to conduct outreach education in the sugar cane fields and in bars. Eighty percent of the workers were tested in the last annual HIV screening, "a remarkable level of compliance," the Times reports. Today, 28% of the workers in Mtubatuba are HIV-positive, a "victory" for this "crusading doctor," as the overall rate for rural KwaZulu-Natal is at least 36% (McNeil, New York Times, 11/28).
A 'Crucial' Mission
In an accompanying article, the Times profiles Guitor Mthembu, one of eight HIV-positive individuals in the Hlabisa region to publicly admit he is infected. Mthembu said that his mission is "to put myself as a human face on HIV/AIDS." The Times, noting that 95% of KwaZulu-Natal residents have never been tested for HIV, reports that in a region where "denial and shame are routine," terror of the disease is endemic and "[m]yths ... are rife," witnesses like Mthembu are "crucial" (McNeil, New York Times, 11/28). Both of the Times articles are available online at nytimes.com/international.