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Denials about AIDS are damaging the African continent

By Katsina Nwanguma

Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.com and NigeriaCentral.com

The first of our fundamental human rights as spelt out in the constitution is the "right to life". Our right to life is currently under threat of total decimation and extinction by a slow, invisible and lethargic killer, AIDS. In short, AIDS, is on a conquering mission.

AIDS, as a serial killer, is out to wipe out humanity. AIDS disastrous presence in Africa calls for more vigilance, strategic plans and mass action. Denying AIDS, pretending it does not exist - imagining it is not a problem and ignoring the negative impact it has on the lives of Africans cannot extinguish or control the virus that has infected over 40 million Africans and already sent over 17 million Africans to their untimely graves.

The alarming rate at which AIDS ravages the African continent calls for a united and spirited fight against this silent murderer. Despite such dire predictions, little is know about the economic impact of the disease, but the anecdotal evidence collected indicates that AIDS is already ravaging all sections of the economy, if unchecked, the economic future of Africans will be bleak.

Dignity is one of AIDS first causalities. AIDS, according to some virologist is defined as the "appearance of one or more opportunistic infections," ignorance about AIDS remains profound, total ignorance is the most crucial reason AIDS is out of control. The stubborn silence about AIDS heralds victory for the disease, and denial cannot keep the deadly virus at bay. The truth is that every body who is sexually active is at risk, most victims do not know how or when they caught the virus, many don't know they have it, those who know do not tell anyone.

The gospel truth remains, AIDS is real. Though it is still surprising that a lot of Africans are still biased about the virus, understanding the modus operandi of AIDS is an additional benefit to everybody. The spread of H.I.V. virus is intractable because it is not written on anybody's forehead.

AIDS has become the biggest producer of bereaed families - and the primary cause of death in Africa. AIDS stimagtised funerals add a sad regular rhythm to African life everyday. AIDS is on verge of destroying the productive forces of our society; it will cost the society 24 &emdash; 26 years of domestic and school age to produce a teacher, doctor or lawyer but it will cost AIDS only six years to destroy them. Children who left when their parents die of AIDS only add another complex dimension to Africa's epidemic, AIDS has created a generation of orphans in Africa.

In Africa, everyday, you heard appalling number of AIDS victims, the number of the dead, the number of who are sick without care, the number walking around already fated to die. They will die of tuberculosis, pneumonia, meningitis - whichever overcomes their ruined immune system first. Sometimes, the people dying of AIDS believe it is just the familiar consequence of their eternal poverty or the handwork of witchcraft. Shame, stigma, ignorance, poverty, sexual promiscuity and political paralysis are the known factors that fuelled the wild spread of H.I.V. infection in Africa. To worsen the situation, to acknowledge that a person is H.I.V. positive in Africa, is to be branded a monstrous being that must be avoided.

According to society for family health, 2.6 million Nigerians are H.I.V. positive. They face discrimination, total rejection and are also shunned by their families and friends. consequently, most of them discontinued their respective occupation due to the stigma associated with H.I.V. the sad story of discrimination against people with H.I.V. is deep and pervasive.

In many developing African countries, the spread of the dreaded H.I.V./AIDS has reached alarming levels. Though, the rate of new infections has reduced in some countries as a result of the concerted efforts of all tiers of government.

Pointedly, in Nigeria, despite the dismal picture painted by the AIDS situation, Nigeria government is yet to achieve a meaningful success in combating the cutthroat virus, all the tiers of government, the church and everyone should help in fighting the virus through preventive measures, people should be encouraged to discuss AIDS freely because silence only fuelled the wider spread of the epidemic.

The Church in particular, should organise different care and support programme to encourage people living with AIDS than stigmatising and ostracizing them in the society. H.I.V. is no respecter of person; anyone can be infected irrespective of status or class. People usually deny AIDS because H.I.V. is linked mostly with sex. Africans feel they must keep private, anything that has to do with sex or even discuss sex openly are pinpointed by health experts as key factors in driving the AIDS epidemic across Africa.

Most of the programmes to save mankind from AIDS are painfully frustrated by a culture that values its dignity over saving lives. A situation where doctors bow to societal pressure and legal strictures not to record AIDS on death certificates. Without proper prevention, the spread of AIDS infection cannot be checked. The consequence of the march on, infection soars, stigma harden, denial hastens deaths and chasm between knowledge and behavior widens.

According to a recent report by the Joint United Nations Programme on H.I.V./AIDS, H.I.V. positive women in Africa have grossly outnumbered men. The wife inheritance system in African culture also helps AIDS scourge to spread at a growing rate. Premarital sex, sex as recreation, obligatory sex, second family sex, dalliance sex, transactional sex, sugar daddy sex, multiply partners sex, and others, are the problems facing the control of AIDS, the nature of AIDS as asserted by some moralists is to feast on promiscuity. These are issues that should be trashed before the entire Africans goes down in a shambles under the weight of AIDS.
Nwaguma is of the department of Creative Arts, University, of Port Harcourt, Rivers State of Nigeria.

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