I want to share an issue that is near and dear to my heart; HIV/AIDS. I am sure you know about this ugly virus that attacks your immune system so you cannot defend yourself against anything else, and folks end up dying from something as simple as pneumonia.
Well I grew up in an era in which it was the biggest killer of my generation in Zimbabwe. When I was in high school,1 in every 3 of us was HIV positive and I lost a lot of friends and family to this epidemic. It is also, what inspired me to be in healthcare as a profession. I started out wanting to be a doctor in college but ended up in business; because I wanted to equip myself with practical tools to fight for access to healthcare and health products in developing countries at a systemic level. Here goes the story.
Since the HIV/AIDS hit the circuit, Southern Africa is the worst affected region and is widely regarded as the ‘epicenter’ of the global HIV epidemic. Some statistics associated with that are, as of 2013, Swaziland had the highest HIV prevalence of any country worldwide (27.4%), which is crazy for such a small country of 1.23 million people. South Africa has the largest epidemic of any country – 5.9 million people were living with HIV in 2013 and at the height of the epidemic in Zimbabwe, we had a 30% prevalence rate.
Some significant facts and stories associated with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in southern Africa:
1. The biggest risk groups affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa is women and gay men. The reasons for this are more complicated than these next few lines of explanation but firmly rooted in misogyny, sexism and homophobia. For instance we are culturally a super misogynistic culture, where women do not have power in sexual relationships, and in Zimbabwe, we have had so much economic and political strife that women resorting to sex, as a currency to survive became a common occurrence. In addition, cultural practices such as legitimizing violence against women, marrying off young girls and polygamy are still prevalent in some parts of Southern Africa. For instance, the king of Swaziland gets a new 16-year-old virgin wife every few years (he has 15 now), crazy for the leader of a country where 1/3 of his people have HIV. And well it’s illegal to be gay in most African countries, so how does one ever seek care if they will be persecuted for it?
2. Zimbabwe is actually one of the more successful countries in fighting HIV/AIDS i.e. my president maybe a good for nothing dictator but he did some things right. In 1999, the Government of Zimbabwe declared the AIDS epidemic to be a national disaster. The two biggest results of this was a pouring of resources into restructuring interventions and confronting the cultural drivers of the epidemic that I mentioned before. Second of all and most of all, we took advantage of a World Trade Organization provision for poor countries that enabled us to get anti-retroviral drugs at an affordable price to ease the pressure of the epidemic.
3. Speaking of access to drugs, The Clinton Health Access Initiative(CHAI) is one of my favorite NGOs for the work it has done to open up access to essential drugs in sub Saharan Africa, including anti-retroviral drugs. You can read all about their work on this link, http://nextbillion.net/chai-market-shaping/
I had a job opportunity with them post business school but came to Philips instead because I am not ready for that work yet. I need to build myself up professionally first and pay my debt out, and corporate America is a great place to do this! So one day, I am going to say adios America and go work for closer to and for my people!
4. South Africa went through this phase where its government denied the HIV/AIDS epidemic for almost a decade and a lot of people died without access to the care and treatments they needed. The Wikipedia article below explains it all. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HIV/AIDS_denialism_in_South_Africa