Isn’t Africa promiscuous and that’s why AIDS is everywhere? 

I was asked this question at a presentation that I gave prior to my departure from Kansas.  I don’t feel like I was able to give a suitable answer.  I have asked the question of my supervisor and been assigned to find a good answer (don’t you just love that?).  I just want to give you the beginning of some information and ways to find more.  I hope that you will take this and go deeper yourself.  Please remember that I am not an expert and am learning along with you.  HIV/AIDS is a reality for far too many in this world and we (the whole of humanity) have got to do all that we can to stop it.  That begins with two things.  First is acknowledging the problem and that it’s affecting people everywhere, it is not just an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ disease.  Secondly is building up our knowledge of HIV/AIDS so that we are better armed to begin the fight.  Much of the following very brief information is taken from AIDS is Real and It’s in Our Church by Jean Garland and Dr. Mike Blyth, 2005 (this book can be used as a group study and is listed on my Reference page).

“9 out of 10 HIV infections in Africa are caused by sexual activity.”  You also need to know that 9 out of 10 women infected have been faithful to their husband and were infected by him.  There are more women infected than men, so many outreaches are to women instead of men and the spiral continues.  There is definitely a gender aspect to this disease.  Due to the large number of women infected there is an ever increasing number of infants infected (these babies have obviously not been promiscuous in their behavior).  There is a medicine available to be given to pregnant women who are HIV+ if they know that they are and will tell their doctor, this is not always happening though.  Families are becoming more and more fragile from this disease.

Some of the root problems are not promiscuity as we think of it here in the US but include rape, ignorance, false information, parents’ silence, cultural issues of power and gender, shame, stigma, fear, denial, military forces overseas, poverty, inferior status of women and traditional practices such as polygamy (there is much debate as to whether or not polygamy is a contributor to the spread of HIV/AIDS for a variety of reasons there is not enough space to go into here).

  • Ignorance in not knowing that one has HIV/AIDS.
  • False information via urban legends and myths.
  • Parent’s silence about not talking about sex.  Similar to parents in the States, many parents do not want to talk to their children about such a difficult subject as sex and associated issues.  African children often do not have school programs teaching them to ‘just say no’ or anything about the ‘birds and bees.’
  • Military forces: “All over Africa, it is clear that the AIDS epidemic multiplies whenever military forces are sent out.  Dr. Anne Bayley says, ‘A common reaction to fear and abnormal social conditions is a breakdown in normal patterns of behaviour and an increase in sexual freedom. . . . life is short. . .”  This book is specifically looking at Africa armed forces stationed in other Africa countries.
  • Stigma and fear keeps people quite about their HIV/AIDS status so that they do not lose their family, job, and/or home.

This past week I spent several days in three different communities talking about the issues of social injustice and HIV/AIDS.  I was amazed, encouraged and saddened at some of the things that I heard.  The people that I spoke with are working with one of CRWRC’s partner organizations, CECS, which is an evangelical Christian health org.  They work with communities to help coordinate advancements in community health.  These communities know that there are problems and are trying to take initiative to stop them before they get worse and their energy and motivation are encouraging.  The two main things that amazed and saddened me are things that are occurring in this country and in these communities (I cannot speak for other countries at this point, only Senegal). 

  1. Some people do not believe in HIV/AIDS.  I was shocked.  However, due to many things, including the stigma attached to AIDS and the fact that people don’t die of AIDS, but of TB, malaria or other illnesses related to AIDS and because AIDS has compromised their immune system, people in Senegal are finding it easier to explain away these deaths with the other illnesses instead of talking about the fact that HIV/AIDS is the cause.  Some people in Africa choose to believe that they have never seen anyone with AIDS so it is not real.  No one that we spoke with mentioned personally knowing anyone with HIV/AIDS but they did mention trying to tell others about HIV/AIDS and that the information that they were sharing was rejected.  The other person simply stated that he did not believe in AIDS. Is was discussed that people lack the courage to admit not only that they have HIV/AIDS, but to admit that what they are seeing IS HIV/AIDS and that it is real.
  2. There is a lot of tourism in Senegal that leads to a variety of sexual infidelity.  There is pedophilia (which is illegal, just as it is in the USA).  Due to the poverty facing people, especially women, village girls and women coming to larger communities looking for work and are often abused.  What saddened me most was the fact that there are many ‘old Europeans’ as someone said that are coming over and have young Senegalese ‘kept’ partners.  They pay these Senegalese very well and sometimes even travel with them and allow them to stay in their luxury vacation villas when the visitors return home.  The same man who defined these tourists as ‘old Europeans’ mentioned that his sister-in-law is in this type of relationship and just received a very large sum of money.  We visited the town where we heard that most of this type of thing is occurring and saw more than one such couple.  All of these sex tourism situations are spreading HIV/AIDS across Africa and around the world. 

This is a very brief answer but I hope that it helped to shed some light on the situation of HIV/AIDS in part of Africa.  Thank you for your question.  Thank you for your concern.  I pray that this will open doors of discussion for you and others.  HIV/AIDS is very real and it is killing thousands and thousands of men, women and children around the world.  I recently spoke with a friend who works in a reformed denomination in the USA and he mentioned an urban church in the States that was finding itself in the midst of ministering to many of its members who are living and dying with HIV/AIDS.  This is not just about promiscuity in Africa.  This is happening everywhere and the challenge is what can each one of us do to sensitize ourselves to the issue and to those who have HIV/AIDS.  They are first and foremost people, like you and I, children of a loving God.