I’m not sure if you have been reading the news, but today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. According to one news article I read, the intention of World AIDS Day is to raise awareness and money for research and medical care with the intention of eliminating the disease by 2030. While an admirable goal, I think it will be difficult to obtain. Here’s why:
When I was in Congo eight months ago one of the men I met told me that Congolese are more concerned about Ebola than AIDS. Given our current predicament in Africa with Ebola, this seems poetic. Back in April when I heard this I thought that was rather foolish. Now, seeing how quickly Ebola spreads and how difficult it is to contain in Africa, where sanitation is grossly lacking, I understand his reasoning. Nevertheless, I was surprised by his laissez-faire attitude toward the risk of HIV/AIDS.
Another man I met in Congo told me how AIDS was not a problem because, “we use the condom.” Well, not long after that I learned what that meant. The government and NGOs in Congo- Congo reportedly has more NGOs and UN Peacekeepers that anywhere else on earth- have launched nationwide campaigns to “condomize.” That’s right, it’s so important we made it a verb! While safe sex propaganda is everywhere in Africa it turns out there is a problem with the marketing message. As someone who teaches Marketing, perhaps we need to be a little more direct. Olivier went on to explain that in order to please their government, they wear condoms. But, the whole point of sex is to join together bodily fluids. So in order to achieve both goals, they wear condoms, but first cut they tip off so that bodily fluids may be exchanged. WHAT THE #&$*????? Yes, that was my reaction too.
As I was telling my class last week, the good thing is that no one actually dies from AIDS in Africa. Before I moved to Africa I had to take a physical. As mandated by the Botswana government, I was required to have a TB test to enter the country. Without the test I could not become a resident. Sitting in the doctor’s office in Lubbock my doctor thought this was ludicrous. “I can’t imagine they care if you bring this into the country, if anything, shouldn’t we be concerned about you being exposed to it while you are there?” she asked. My doctor couldn’t even remember the last time she had administered the test, and as a result, filled out the form incorrectly. I ended up having to return a second time to get retested. But as I was saying no one in Africa dies from AIDS. No, not at all. But TONS of people die from TB.
You know, “The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club?” Well, it’s kind of the same deal. We talk endlessly about HIV/AIDS- go to this workshop, get tested, read this brochure, tell your friends. Yet no one actually has it and no one dies from it. I can’t tell you how many funerals I have been invited to (in Africa), where someone has died from TB. Answer: A LOT. People willingly talk about and show evidence if they DON’T have it, but AIDS patients in Africa are like unicorns, everyone has heard about it, but never actually seen one before.
As I was saying, I think the desire to eradicate AIDS in the next 15 years is admirable. However, I have little hope that this can be achieved because I think there are a number of cultural barriers which make this a serious challenge. I should also mention that perhaps the most significant explanation for why I think this will fail is because this is a “preaching to the choir” sort of situation. In Botswana there is at least one newspaper article every week about HIV/AIDS. Guess how many newspapers in Botswana ran front page articles about World AIDS Day? Not one.
In case you were interested, here are some of the medical PR campaigns I’ve seen around Africa. Sleep under a mosquito net to avoid malaria:
Get your Yellow Fever vaccination:
Use a condom:
And this is also related to HIV/AIDS and methods to prevent the transfer of the disease from mother to baby during birth: