Wednesday, September 3, 2008

AIDS Seminar

My one volunteer experience on this trip to Siha was to give a seminar [more like a round table discussion] to a group of 20 deacon students [all men in their 20's] at Faraja. Also present were Gunter Neidhardt and his wife Gabriela.

The most recent HIV/AIDS statistics about Tanzania that I could obtain were from 10/05. At that time 8.8% of the population were HIV positive [1.6 million people]. Since these numbers come from people who are voluntarily tested, most experts believe that this % is low. Women accounted for 56% of the cases and young women, ages 15 to 24, are twice as likely to be infected compared to young men. In 2oo3, there were 140,000 infected children. and 1 million AIDS orphans. I had heard from several sources that there are more cases in the southern part of the country where there are many mines and more poverty.

My first question to these men was to ask if they knew someone with HIV/AIDS. They all answered in the affirmative. Then I tested their knowledge of AIDS and they did very well.

AIDS acts a different disease in the US and Europe than it does in Africa. In the US the vast majority of HIV/AIDS cases are among IV drug abusers and male homosexuals. The exclusively heterosexual population rate is < class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_8">IV drug abuse and gay sexual relations, it is almost entirely transmitted by vaginal, heterosexual relations and the infection rate is as high 40% in some countries.

What are the reasons for this difference? There has some recent research that suggests that African have less genetic resistance to becoming infected. Circumcision has been shown to decrease the risk of becoming infected by 50%. When studying the difference of sexual practices between the West and Africa, it was found that both groups, on average, had the same number of sexual partners in their lifetimes. The difference was that westerners practiced more serial monogamy while the Africans were more likely to have multiple partners at the same time. Why is this important? When a person is first infected with HIV, he/she is most infectious to others in the first 6 to 10 weeks before the antibody response occurs.

We then talked issues of sex and reproductive education. There is a large resistance to openly discuss this subject in the home. They felt too "ashamed" and embarrassed to talk about this subject. These attitudes do not prevent them from becoming sexually active, usually beginning between the ages of 11 and 13. Theirs is a male dominated society and the double standard rules. If a girl in secondary school becomes pregnant, she is forced to leave school. She rarely identifies the boy [or man] who impregnates her and he suffers no consequences. In situations where there is a high poverty rate, sex is a form of currency for women to obtain money, food and shelter. It is very common for married men to have an extramarital relationship[s].

When I asked, "With the risk of AIDS being about 1 in 10, how have you changed your attitudes and activities related to your sexual activities?" The silence was deafening. These young men are the future deacons of the Lutheran Church, pillars of their society. If they are not changing their actions, how is the rest of the population responding?

Clearly, if there is a potential solution to ending the AIDS epidemic in Tanzania and Africa, it has to be in educating the youth of the country. Sexuality, sex education, STD and AIDS prevention and redefining gender roles need to be discussed in the homes, schools [starting in the Primary Schools]and in the community settings. These messages will need to be repeated for each new group of young people.

I presented material supplied by Mary Gossart, the educational coordinator for Planned Parenthood in Eugene. It gives a step by step, research tested approach to teaching issues related to sexuality. These materials were left at the Teachers Resource Center for their use and for future volunteers who wish to develop follow up programs.
Thanks again, Mary for your help.

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