Fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa Requires More Than ‘Fruits of Science,’ Opinion Piece Says
The "fruits of science" and antiretroviral drug programs alone will not curb the spread of HIV in Africa, Jonny Steinberg -- author of "Sizwe's Test: A Young Man's Journey Through Africa's AIDS Epidemic" -- writes in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece. Antiretroviral programs should "heed the frailty and complexity of the human beings they aim to reach," Steinberg writes. He adds, "In particular, for men who have been disabled by shame, treatment needs a new face, one that presents AIDS not as the core of a new political identity but as a chronic illness like any other."
Raising issues such as the possibility that HIV/AIDS is seen by some Africans as an "attack on a man's generative capacity" or a "white conspiracy" is "uncomfortable for two reasons," Steinberg writes. "First, they suggest that helping a continent in need is complicated and difficult," he writes, adding, "Second, asking why sick Africans do not always rush to get treatment requires thinking and speaking about them anthropologically, which brings its own special fear: the fear of patronizing them, of blaming them and their indigenous ways for their illness."
According to Steinberg, no one in the U.S. "has seriously argued that medicine single-handedly" helped control the HIV/AIDS epidemic among men who have sex with men. Before advances in treatment, MSM "entered into a collective dialogue that slowly and painfully re-examined the fundamentals of their identities and sexual practices," according to Steinberg. MSM "were forced to think about themselves anthropologically and to recalibrate their relation to themselves and the world," he writes, adding, "And so it will have to be with Africans."
Steinberg notes that the need to make antiretrovirals universally accessible in Africa is "urgent," but the "odds are stacked against these drugs becoming the harbinger of a wider African redemption." Africa needs "fortification against the comforting Western fantasy" that it "will be saved by science alone," Steinberg writes. He adds that a "great epidemic by its nature assembles people into difficult relations with themselves and one another," concluding, "There is no substitute for working through this terrain. Africans, after all, are as complicated" as white MSM (Steinberg, Los Angeles Times, 3/5).