The horror of the AIDS pandemic in Africa

With 17 million dead and another 25 million fated for the same cruel death of their predecessors, will the West eventually come to Africa’s aid?

Already, 17 million have died and at least another 25 million will soon follow. Every 26 seconds somebody in the region gets infected with the virus, every 26 seconds somebody in Zimbabwe is fated for a lamentable yet preventable death, all the while the world continues to spin happily on its axis. From the prostitute, whose resolve to never let her children starve makes her oblivious to the ruthlessness of the disease, to the promiscuous, migrant truck driver — a father and husband too — who summarily gives in to the pressure of prolonged sexual deprivation, the killer disease swoops down murderously on its human prey, consuming them in unprecedented proportions, sometimes even garnishing entire townships. Time magazine’s Johanna McGeary writes (about the situation on ground zero), ‚Flesh and muscle melt from the bones of the sick in packed hospital wards and lonely bush kraals. Corpses stack up in morgues until those on top crush the identity from the faces underneath. Raw! earth mounds scar the landscape, grave after grave without name or number. Bereft children grieve for parents lost in their prime, for siblings scattered to the winds.’ This is the story about AIDS in Africa.

The mighty West, meanwhile stares in egregious indifference as the lives of the most helpless, most impoverished and most alienated people on the planet dissipate for nothing as though it were a virtue. Yet when it comes time to pillage the continent, to drill its oil and loot its gold and diamonds, we know exactly which longitudes and latitudes would get us there quickest. Hypocrites that we are, we shout in denunciation of abortion, vociferously alluding to and advocating the right of the unborn to the gift of life while the myriad African babies who die at the hands of their HIV infected mothers are but a tiny blip on a screen that never was.

But lest it be taken for granted, the conditions that have given rise to what may be the most horrendous medical catastrophe in human history are indeed as diverse and as complicated as the human mind can imagine. Any description of these circumstances could not be comprehensive, let alone truthful without a look at some of the social ethos, the traditions as well as the economic and political parameters in the southern quadrant of Africa where the plague is most heavily concentrated and has claimed the most lives.

To this day, talking about AIDS in communities within Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe is taboo. It’s the one thing you simply don’t do! The shame and stigma of admission is itself a killer. Horror stories continue to be told about people who have been ostracized, some even stoned to death by neighbors for admitting their HIV-positive status. In a region where family could historically, always be counted on to come to the rescue in times of need, relatives have uncharacteristically abandoned their own to face death at the cold hands of AIDS. Husbands, notably the prime carriers of the virus – their increased job-related migration after the demise of apartheid has steadily increased contact with prostitution and fostered promiscuity – provide the greatest nourishment for HIV through their vehement denial of its existence. Government is absent. Political leaders, themselves being ravaged by the disease, don’t want to hear the truth. President Thabo Mbeki who succeeded Nelson Mandela once declared that HIV was not the cause of AIDS, and upon such a belief refused medical assistance from Western donor agencies that were literally begging to help.

Teachers trade A’s for sex with young ambitious teenage girls, who eventually, either die of contracting the virus before they’re able to realize their ambitions or become simply too sick to keep striving at all. Doctors are routinely forced to evade the truth about the cause of death of their patients due to social and political pressures. Obituaries don’t mention the cause of death, their silence much louder and more disheartening than the cry for help by the millions infected and dying. Such silence, such ignorance is what has enabled the pandemic to willfully wipe out generations within a blink of an eye. But as many of those who wittingly refuse to talk openly about AIDS as there might exist, there are many more who are just now beginning to learn about a terminal STD called AIDS. Yet the changes in attitudes to sex, which remain paramount to the ultimate reversing of this dreadful trend just aren’t happening. Ignorance on the ground is rife and the impact paralyzing.

The question of whether or not the West is obligated to help salvage a dying continent is indeed an ethical one. And in this age of the most unprecedented technological and medical advancements in human history, where cranial reconstruction could restore the other half of a man’s head which was blown away by a rifle, history cannot bestow kindness upon us if we turn a deaf ear to the unmistakably resounding cry for help from the helpless and dying custodians of the origin of humankind.

When it’s all said and done however, Western pharmaceutical companies and their governments must acknowledge that providing the desperately needed educational and medical assistance to the dying in Africa, if even for free, could be a tad more worthy a cause than the wanton and shameless exploitation of the continent that either one or the other, or both have blatantly perpetuated or furtively supported at one point or another. People living in African communities that are being wiped out by HIV, most of them illiterate, need to be educated in order to enable them critically examine and ultimately reform some of the extreme customs and traditional practices that have so far only provided fodder for the killer disease.

By Michael Ofotsu Tetteh, Cornell University


fated for przeznaczony
lamentable opłakany
to spin on axis kręcić się wokół osi
ruthlessness bezlitosność
promiscous nie przebierający, swobodny
to give in ustępować, ulegać
to swoop down spadać
prey żer, zdobycz
flesh ciało, mięso
bereft pozbawiony
siblings rodzeństwo
impoverished zubożały
to dissipate rozpraszać, roztrwaniać
longitude długość geograficzna
latitude szerokośc geograficzna
denunciation krytyka
to allude robić aluzje
myriad niezliczony, mnóstwo
lest aby nie
to take for granted traktować jak pewnik
stoned to death ukamieniowany
abandon zaprzestać, opuszczać
notably widocznie, szczególnie
nourishment pożywienie
vehement zaciekły, gwałtowny
to ravage druzgotać, niweczyć
literally dosłownie
to strive walczyć, usiłować
obituary nekrolog
to wipe out wymieść, zmiatać
a blink of an eye mrugnięcie oka
paramount najważniejszy
to salvage ratować
to bestow obdarzyć
custodian strażnik, dozorca
wanton bezmyślny, bezsensowny
blatantly bezwstydnie
to perpetuate kontynuować
fodder pasza