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.