In an effort to draw attention to the effects AIDS has on blacks, the Center for Afro-American Studies sponsored a lecture yesterday titled, “The Crisis of HIV/AIDS in South Africa and the United States.”
“Among people of color, it has been such a devastating topic, people can”t ignore it. CAAS wants to be at the forefront, keeping them aware and safe,” said CAAS Program Manager Elizabeth Ann James.
Tom Zhuwau, an exchange student from the University of Natal in South Africa who has done field-based research on HIV in Africa, talked about the rampant sickness and death in Africa due to HIV, most notably in the southern part of the continent.
Every country in southern Africa has more than 20 percent of their population infected with HIV, Zhuwau said, noting tests done in Francistown, Botswana, last year where it was discovered that approximately one out of every two women in that town was infected with HIV.
Zhuwau said he believes the biggest reason that so many people are getting sick is that when one person gets infected, they do not often see symptoms for as long as five to 10 years. As a result, no precautions are taken and they continue to spread the disease, never having been tested.
“HIV is a silent epidemic,” said Zhuwau.
In South Africa, Zhuwau said, when the HIV epidemic began to grow rapidly in the early 1990s, it was ignored by most people who were more concerned with the dismantling of Apartheid and the creation of a democratic government.
He added that the HIV epidemic is exacerbated by the poverty and violence that goes on in South Africa.
“Sex is not an expression of love. It is an expression of empowering the woman. This enhances HIV,” Zhuwau said.
He said he believes the best way to combat AIDS is to make more people aware of the fact that thousands of people are dying in Africa from the disease.
Public Health student Leseliey Welch, who has worked at the HIV/AIDS Resource Center in Ypsilanti as well as volunteered her time at the King Edward”s Hospital in South Africa, talked about the problems of HIV in the United States, primarily among blacks.
Blacks make up 12 to 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet account for approximately 30 percent of HIV cases each year. But, Welch said there has been some resistance, especially in Michigan, to such prevention programs as condom distribution and needle exchange centers.
Welch said that when she visited a middle school she wasn”t allowed to talk to students about some topics.
“I was not allowed to open a condom, or talk to them about certain things,” she recalled.
Welch said that since the schools have been reluctant to give the type of HIV education she feels is necessary, a grassroots campaign is needed among the community in order to make people aware that while some prevention practices are controversial, they are necessary to fighting HIV.