Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Irony - Zim and HIV

So a fascinating article passed via my inbox the other day. While Mbeki is so intent on us realising how HIV and poverty are linked, this Washington Post journalist is putting forward the idea that actually… the less you have, the less you’ll be shagging the multitudes, and the safer you will be.

Or rather – as the Zim dollar buys a person less and less by the day, men are finding it more difficult to keep more than one woman. With each price hike, so they say goodbye to girlfriends and/or prostitutes. …Excellent news in HIV Prevention terms.

For years now, people have been trying to understand why Zim’s HIV epidemic has been declining, while its richer neighbours of South Africa and Botswana appear to be getting nowhere. The main supposition has been that for all the evils that the Mugabe government has committed, it did value and invest in education. Zimbos are educated people, and the more educated one is, the more likely that person will practice safer sex. Or so the theory goes.

Reports from Zim cancelled out the idea that the declining numbers were “a surge of death in the absence of effective treatment. Or maybe the exodus of young, well-educated people to other countries explained the trend”. Rather, the studies have noted an increase in condom use and a decrease in multiple sex partners – changed sexual behaviour has been resulting in fewer new infections.

Added to this, and one of the greatest ironies of Development, has been that with the creation of improved transport roads, and with impoverished people now earning disposable income, so is HIV able to spread. Development explodes HIV across a wider area.

An ex-colleague, who was drilling for water for desperate communities, would return from the field with stories of how his employees spent their “new” incomes. And these were not pretty. He was watching the “richening” drillers become infected, sicken, and die. Their extra cash enticed desperate women, and these men were more than happy to share these women amongst themselves. To everyone’s detriment.

But Zim is declining economically and development is an escaping dream. Less trucks travelling through, less disposable income, less demand for prostitutes, less drinking which can lead to mistakenly indulging in high risk behaviour. And onwards.

Nightclubs, cinemas and brothels have closed in Harare, the capital, and in some cases evangelical churches have taken over the buildings. Less visibly, men say they are abandoning what Zimbabweans call "small houses," a legacy of the polygamous marriages once common here.

Pastor Elliot Mandaza of New Life Covenant Church in Harare has noticed a similar trend. As the capital's night spots have closed -- the church uses a former cinema for Bible classes -- pews have filled with financially troubled newcomers seeking divine solace. Few of these men can afford several sex partners.

Look, the figures still are not good, in globally relative terms – 1 in 5 Zimbabwean adults are infected. And if bread and milk and tampons are hard to come by, just imagine how difficult a regular supply of ARVs or treatment for opportunistic infections are to acquire.

This lack of medical treatment, the article supposes, also is leading to Zimbabweans improving their sexual behaviour. Neighbouring countries “have used international funding to create increasingly extensive treatment programs” whereas in Zim… “AIDS means almost certain death here”.

No money. No available treatment. Less sex. Less infection. And so do we make small gains in the fight against HIV. Oh how ironic.

Nonetheless, trading sex is still an appealing option for some women. Those who can find the few men with easy cash. One 23 year old women interviewed is paid about $75 a month to be the girlfriend of a 40-year-old businessman. He also “takes her out to dinner and buys groceries for her parents”.

"He's like an ATM," Tsitsi said. "You just go and punch money and it comes out."

Hmmmm, boys, before you next haul that credit card out for some doe-eyed woman, maybe think of that image… And then put all of it away.

UPDATE: And then I just read an article saying that nearly 1/4 of all Zim children are orphans..."You have to wonder what does this mean for a generation of children growing up as adults," said Christopher Dell , the outgoing US ambassador to Zimbabwe, in a telephone interview. "You wonder what it does to the future of the country."

P.S. I was asked a question about condoms the other day. Apparently my doctor mate did send me an email reply but it got severely lost in the technological wires. She hopefully will manage to resend it and I will have the info up here in the next few days. As promised.


Leigh Anne said...

Wow! Thanks for pointing me towards that article, Champs!

I wonder how this: "Muza, who has a long face and a thin beard" ties in with this: "Each one got thin, lost his hair and sweated his way through terrible fevers"?

Is he hinting that he suspects Muza is HIV+?

Or am I reading too much into this?

Champagne Heathen said...

Pleasure! I am just a bundle of such articles. (I get sent an email every day of all the main aids stories from around the world!...I do not keep up with my reading!)

From what I can work out, I don't think the journo is making that connection. But I also did find his discription of Muza a bit odd and out of place. What is a "thin" beard???

Leigh Anne said...

Possibly a "sparse" beard? The description seemed a bit weird to me too, that's why it stuck in my head... And when I got to the final page I sort of went "aha!" Maybe my "aha!" was out of place then...

Revolving Credit said...

If I was a hooker, I wouldn't accept Zim dollars either.

This is a sad irony though. HIV infection in down.

So less people will be dying in 5-10-20 years time from AIDS.

Thats because they'll be dying within 3-12 months time from starvation.

Either way they're dead...doesn't really help, does it!

ChewTheCud said...

So poverty doesn't cause AIDS then ;)

How many women does the average man keep anyway? Is this an African problem only?

Leigh Anne said...

When I was a hooker I didn't accept Zim$ either... When the Zimbos came down they paid in US$...

Champagne Heathen said...

Leigh Anne - yeah, I think he was just trying to get poetic & misplaced it a bit. Thanks for the other info btw! Very interesting

Rev - Another day in the life of a Southern African country. Sob.

Chews - I can't even land myself one man. How is it so many of these dodgy old men are landing themselves countless women!?!

Maybe I need to become lesbian.

No clue on an exact number of women the average man manages to sustain concurrent relationships with. I just think they are mad.

To be politically correct - no, of course not. All men of all continents are the same, and there are countless examples of American presidents being as unfaithful as the French as the guys in Asia who have their "happy endings" to the African man with his polygamous relations.

To be a bit less PC - what I do know, is many men on this continent practice unsafe sexual relations, and this is, along with other factors, is aiding the frightening spread of HIV.

Mr Memetic said...

I agree that people should have less sex.

Less sex means less people.

Less people, less people bugging me.