In Africa and the rest of the world, the 1st of December is a day to reflect and build solidarity with People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWH), their friends and families. The day also allows us to reflect on our roles in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and reducing the stigma and discrimination while ensuring universal access to treatment of PLWH. Our HEALTH Columnist, Paul Adepoju, shares his views on HIV-related issues… read on!
Cymbeline is one of the best tragicomedies of all time. Written by William Shakespeare, the play has three interrelated plots: one concerns Imogen’s love for her husband, Posthumus, and his jealousy; another involves the long-lost sons of King Cymbeline; and the third concerns Britain’s challenge to the power of Rome. The three plots marvellously come together in the play’s astonishing conclusion, as characters move from error to truth, from scepticism to faith, and from hatred to love. Confusion and loss are replaced by clarity and gain, as families and nations are reunited and are again at peace.
Although Cymbeline was released in 1623, its storyline is still similar to those of the twenty first century where an upright, diligent and [often] intelligent “actor” scales the hurdles, overcomes the temptations and neutralizes the threats that are hulled at him (or her) by “the boss”. It is also an extension of life’s lessons of hope, faith, astuteness and resilience which often yield proportionate rewards. To a considerable extent, this principle holds sway in several areas of human endeavour, but AIDS via its microscopic causative agent: a retrovirus, is rewriting every written human rule, and has compromised the intellectual capacities of genus Homos sapiens.
Ordinarily, HIV is the easiest riddle to figure out, and the most helpless of all causative agents of human infections. Virology (study of viruses) has revealed that the virus is a pathetic parasite that can not live for long on its own; it is entirely dependent on the host that literally provides food and shelter for the homeless virus. Also, the virus is the stupidest or how do we describe the initiation of a chain of events that negatively affect the organism’s lifeline, and ultimately results in the death of the patient and itself considering the fact that the virus is non communicable via means that do not entail contact with body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk?
Also, the human immunodeficiency virus ought to be the cheapest to control if men (and women) obey the fundamentally basic rules of life and follow the divinely ordered course. Sex for instance, is the major route of contracting the virus in Africa; yet African cultures outlaw and discourage illicit sex. Also, Africans value blood; they respect the sacredness of the body tissue and other body fluids hence on paper, contracting HIV via body fluid exchange shouldn’t be an issue in Africa — It ought to be the least of Africa’s worries.
In the same vein, finding cure couldn’t be expected to take this long yet without any headlight pointing anywhere because as early as three months after the first case was reported in the United States, scientists at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came up with probable cures for HIV infection. But after more than twenty years, scientists all over the world are still clueless over which direction to follow concerning the search for cure.
Also, medical economists agree that HIV has gulped more money than any other infection in human history. The whooping sums of money (running into several billions of dollars) that has been expended on the various aspects of HIV control, prevention, awareness and research are sufficient enough to finance the annual budgets of some African countries. This further supports the assertion that maybe the virus is nothing but a façade that is being used by the medical elites to get their sizeable share of global cash.
Furthermore, to the superstitious mind, current trend of HIV infection in Africa presents the continent as one under a strong spell. This becomes quite fathomable when a comparison is made of HIV prevalence and mortality data from across the world. Currently, southern Africa has the highest prevalence rate while the only African country that sustains the ancient African monarchy system: Swaziland has recorded a prevalence level of about 40 per cent in recent years.
Here in Nigeria, HIV-related issues had created a fascinating conundrum which is a true eye-opener to the dismal status of the health system. In the first instance, there is no reliable HIV prevalence data; Nigeria only has circumstantial prevalence data that changes with fluctuations in HIV funding. This is typified in the variations in Nigeria’s HIV/AIDS data from 2006 to 2008.
In 2006, Nigerian HIV epidemiologists painted a scary prevalence data that attracted several foreign attentions. These were characterized with the influx of more money into HIV researches and control plans in Nigeria. The following year, possibly to show that they are doing something good, Nigeria’s HIV prevalence data significantly reduced. In response, the donor agencies decided to slash the funds being pumped into Nigeria’s HIV programmes. Realizing this, the Nigerian HIV prevalence data hit the roof the following year. If this is true, then it’s worthy to ask “who are they fooling?” Nigerians are not sure which report (and data) to believe.
African leaders, African scientists and individual Africans need to stop fooling themselves. It cannot be overemphasized the need to start contending with the fact that soonest, the ironic seriousness of some African countries would pose great danger to the success being recorded elsewhere. Although African countries like Kenya and South Africa are doing a lot and have gone as far as testing HIV vaccines for potency, efficacy and safety, the inactions and wrong actions of other nations make their brilliant lofty efforts nothing but a small drop of water in the Atlantic Ocean.
HIV/AIDS in its current status in Africa is a real life/fake imagination dichotomy where what is on paper negates what the truth really is. African citizens in their millions still crack jokes with the virus, many still take it as fake, and governments pretend as if they are on top of the pandemic while in the true sense, the virus is the one on top of us all on this side of the planet!
After more than twenty five years of confirmed diagnosis, the only entity that can smile, click wine glasses and celebrate is the virus itself. Repeatedly, smartly and covertly, it has penetrated every city of the world – from the Sin City to the Holy Vatican. Unlike human beings, the virus, despite not having brain, has been steps ahead of the best of brains in medical science.
The virus has a defence mechanism that evades every human effort, as if it has an informant in our midst. Also, despite several schools of thought, there is no conclusive statement on how and where the virus came from. And since it has closely guarded its primary source, human beings are still at lost over the virus’ next destination. Socially, the virus has successfully decimated human demography with stigmatization and stratification of the population, especially here in Africa.
On national TVs and from their air-conditioned penthouses, government agencies reiterate their zero tolerance for victimization and stigmatization although Africans know more about the ubiquitous stigmatization that preponderates, even in nuclear families. Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) is openly supported and preached, yet numerous churches compel members to go for HIV testing before they can get married. Generally, our utterances do not match our actions, and the virus is very happy about it.
Like Cymbeline where William Shakespeare determines the fate of his characters, the course of HIV infection in Nigeria, Africa and the rest of the world is solely dependent on who is in charge. In the developed countries of the world, the government and relevant agencies had snatched the wheels from the virus. They accepted the challenges that living with the virus comes with, and have taken practical steps to reduce the effects to the barest minimum. Currently, living with HIV/AIDS in these countries is similar to being infected with malaria in tropical Africa – it’s no longer a big deal. We need to get to the same awareness and action levels in Africa.
Little can be achieved with the current falsehood and denial approach that most African countries are utilizing when it comes to HIV/AIDS and other issues. However, accepting failure is the first step towards being successful. Hence taking the bull by the horn embraces the usual advice of “going back to the drawing board”. Researchers also need to start from the scratch and pick up any missing clues that past researchers failed to notice. Who knows, they might be the master key that would unlock the highly secured yet vulnerable HIV mystery. Happy World AIDS Day Celebrations. Act Aware.
Image via hbp