10 October 2012

Zambia: Nation's Aids Fight Acknowledged


'SEX thrills, AIDS kills' is perhaps the most touching message health workers and other anti-AIDS activists loved to use in Zambia's early efforts to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.

And when Vice-President Guy Scott says that his Government is on the right track in the struggle against HIV/AIDS and related diseases, he is obviously stating that there hasn't been a let-up in the war against AIDS, which was started some three decades ago.

Indeed those of us who were there when the first case of HIV was reported in the early 1980s know well that HIV and AIDS prevention through Zambia's AIDS fight acknowledged awareness-raising began early in Zambia.

We vividly remember how aggressive anti-AIDS activists launched the campaign targeting mostly sexually active men and women.

From then and on to the 1990s, much of the early campaign involved mass production of pamphlets and posters that warned of the dangers of AIDS and promoted abstinence, for instance, if one had to avoid contracting the disease.

These pamphlets and posters could be seen stuck not just on the notice boards of health institutions, but in public places such as bars and taverns, markets, wall fences and even on the trees.

One US journalist actually sounded impressed in the late 1980s when he reported that "Zambia is waging one of the world's most aggressive educational campaigns against AIDS, surpassing anything being done in the United States (of America)."

Knowing that the age group 15-24 was just about the most sexually active, and single, anti-AIDS messages emphasised abstinence before marriage.

This preventive measure was, and still is, particularly embraced by the Catholic faithful as the best weapon against the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Other organisations have been saying that where people could not abstain, they should use a condom. And condoms have been quite handy, with Government health institutions and grant-aided NGOs distributing them free of charge including ARVs.

These have not been the only areas of advice, however, because over the years, a wide range of media has also been used to carry messages about AIDS targeting adults.

Children have, meanwhile, been taught at least the biological facts about the HIV/AIDS scourge in their respective schools.

Studies have shown that in Zambia, unlike in some countries, HIV does not primarily affect the most underprivileged people in the rural areas, as high infection rates have been recorded among wealthier people and the better educated.

It is, therefore, not surprising that HIV is most prevalent in the urban centres along the line of rail, rather than in poorer rural provinces.

This does not necessarily mean there are some areas that are free of the pandemic. It has spread throughout the country and affects all parts of our society, although some groups, especially the vulnerable seem to be most affected.

These are young women and girls, as we have earlier indicated, aged 15-24, where the HIV prevalence is said to be more than twice that of men in this age group.

And generally, there are more women affected than men. Health and social workers tell us that a number of factors resulting from gender inequality contribute to the higher prevalence among women.

For instance, in many societies, women are often taught never to refuse their husbands sex or to insist their partners use condoms.

In fact, in one local behavioural survey, around 15 per cent of women reported forced sex, although this may not reflect the true number as many women may have not disclosed this information.

In addition, young women in Zambia are said to become sexually active earlier than men, with partners who will be on average five years their senior, some of who may already have had a number of sexual partners.

The result of the overall sexual behaviour has been that all areas of Zambia's public sector and the economy at large have been weakened, thus slowing down national development as it is the most productive persons that have been hit hardest.

However, we join hands with Dr Scott in acknowledging the ongoing efforts in fighting HIV/AIDS because the Government, with the help of non-governmental organisations and donors, has continued supporting the health system with interventions that help contain the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

There are also efforts to control such diseases as malaria and tuberculosis, raising people's hopes that the HIV.

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