A Post for World AIDS Day
We don't see them much anymore. The celebrity backed awareness campaigns, the startling headlines, the photos of people who are thin and sick, the photos of their babies left behind. It had shock value – it came as a surprise that this virus was pandemic. That in some communities, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, between 10-20% were infected. He came like a mystery; how? Why? Now we know: what has been called a "tinderbox" of historical changes and economic conditions gave a virus that is relatively difficult to transmit the opportunity to sweep across a vast part of the world. (if you want a fascinating look into the details behind this, read 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa, The Invisible Cure, or Tinderbox). HIV came as a result of what we call poverty-related survival activity. This is a virus that finds its best hosts in extreme poverty – survival activities for a mom desperate to keep her kids fed can include prostitution, looking to boyfriend after boyfriend for support, remarrying purely for economic provision, entrance into human trafficking, etc.
Of the above poverty-related survival activities, the one that seems to be the most responsible option – remarrying for the sake of provision - may actually create the most vulnerability. According to the HIV aids resource provider, AIDSMap, marriage is a risk factor for HIV infection in Malawi. Indeed, Stanford University professor Anne Firth Murray affirms in her book from out reach to courage: in Eastern and Southern Africa, the main risk factor for women contracting HIV is being a faithful married woman - since it is culturally permissible for men to have multiple relationships outside of marriage, but for women it is not. (The citation she gives here is from UNICIF. Her important book on the challenges facing women in the developing world, From Outrage to Courage, can be found here ). How much does our work in economic empowerment at Under the Same Tree touch on this issue? The short answer is very much. This particular issue has always been a passion of mine. I thought, once, that I would go into community education, home care, or something directly related to working to address HIV in Sub-Saharan African communities. As I learned how intricately HIV was linked to survival activities caused by extreme poverty, however, I started leaning into finding ways to prevent the need for survival activities (remember – Prostitution, transactional relationships, remarrying simply out of need for provision, human trafficking etc). Under the Same Tree's mission statement is to prevent the effects of poverty through economic empowerment. In East Africa, we are working to prevent the scenarios that lead to HIV infection. We protect the privacy of the specific individuals, but we are working with those who have been widowed by HIV/AIDS, or those who may be vulnerable. Is the cover picture on this post says, "we all know about the abandoned orphans and suffering widows.." but we actually know them. You don't see them much anymore - The awareness campaigns, the funding drives - but the kind of stories that drove them are still here. And while access to antiretroviral medicine and medical care has significantly improved in many communities, my hope is to prevent those we serve from ever finding themselves needing to access them at all.