Being from a developed Western country, HIV and AIDS has generated enough buzz over the past two decades—for me, since Magic Johnson revealed his infection—to become a reality we are well aware of. Still, it is understandably an extremely uncomfortable topic for most of us, and fortunately because of the education and preventive measures widely available, it has never exploded to the point where every one of us is close with someone who is infected.
Maybe that’s why I was shocked to learn that more than 10 percent of the South African population is HIV positive.
I had heard before about the problems that many African nations have had with AIDS. But my clouded vision imagined an epidemic that was only running through uneducated, disconnected rural tribes, lacking modern means of communication and modern societal infrastructures. But when you land in Johannesburg, it feels no different from landing in any populated and expansive city in America—with modern glass buildings, bustling expressways and neat housing sub-divisions all around. I guess it is this contrast from what I expected that really made me take notice.
Ten percent. Imagine that proportion in your workplace, or on your athletic teams. Imagine it in your apartment complex, or in your own extended family. And South Africa is a modern, middle-income, industrial society, with parts that don’t feel any different from Kansas or California. With the mere mention of HIV or AIDS being such a jaw-dropping conversation-stopper in America, it really makes you think. How does that impact a typical night of alcohol-enhanced fun for an immature university student? Or even the trust level of committed couples?
I was even more shocked to learn that as recently as 2008, the country had a Minister of Health that that endorsed lemon, garlic and beetroot as the cure for AIDS, and even attempted to stop the distribution of antiretroviral medicines in the country. As recently as two-thousand-and-eight! Fortunately, South Africa’s leadership has finally recognized the reality of AIDS prevention and offered some genuine leadership in providing education to contain the epidemic, but the whole situation in general is something that really makes you think, especially if you’ve been to South Africa and experienced the present-day culture.