Why would AIDS not stop in Africa? Discourses Surrounding the Spread of AIDS in Africa

The Case Of South Africa

Term Paper 2009 21 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Africa



1.0 Introduction

2.0 Discourses in circulation in relation to HIV/AIDS
2.1 Medical or Scientific discourse
2.2 Socio-economic discourse
2.3 Traditional discourse

3.0 Reasons for prevalence of HIV/AIDS pandemic in certain parts of Africa
3.1 Lack of sufficient attention regarding discourses
3.2 Gender roles in the South African society
3.3 High incidence of rape
3.4 Myths and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS

4.0 The impact of HIV/AIDS on the educational sector of South Africa

5.0 Conclusion

6.0 References

Explore the discourses in circulation in relation to HIV/AIDS in Africa and the reasons why the pandemic is still on the increase in certain parts of Africa. Finally discuss the impact of HIV/AIDS in the education sector on the continent.

1.0 Introduction

With regards to the demands of the question under discussion, I would like to partition my paper into three. The three parts would be discussed under three broad headings. The central focus being on the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, my broad headings shall be: the related discourses in circulation, reasons for the continued spread of the disease, and its impact on the educational sector. Since Africa is such a large continent, I will limit my discussions mainly to South Africa. For the sake of clarity though, I shall cite examples from other parts of Africa to support my claims. Whereas I will be drawing from other sources, in and outside the Module 4B syllabus (Education and Development in the South: 2009 document) for support, my main literature will be Baxen and Breidlid’s (2004/2009) research on HIV/AIDS and education in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the first part of this paper I have chosen to categorise the discourses in circulation in relation to HIV/AIDS into three. Although political, historical and other discourses abound, I shall limit myself to three others to be able to discuss them fully and develop convincing arguments. The three categories shall be: medical or scientific discourse, socio-economic discourse and traditional discourse. The terms “medical” or “scientific” would therefore be used interchangeably, as the case may be, to mean the same discourse. Under the medical discourse I shall elucidate on the name, nature, mode of transmission (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1999 document) and prevention (Baxen and Breidlid, 2009: 27-28). The socio-economic discourse shall revolve around poverty and social pressure (Wa Thiong’o, 1989: 140). The final category, which is the traditional discourse, shall embody discourses surrounding patriarchal authority and certain mythological ideas embedded in most African cultures, which underpin the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

The second part, which is a further development of this paper, I shall demonstrate how lack of sufficient attention regarding the above discourses, as discussed in the first part, has contributed to worsening the already bad situation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa, not mentioning its neighbour countries of Sub-Saharan Africa (Steinar-Khamsi, 2004). In this second part of the paper I shall explore some other reasons encouraging the increase in the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. These reasons shall include the issue of gender roles favouring hegemonic masculinity, rape and certain myths and misconceptions that appear difficult to eradicate from the cultural fabric of the South African society.

Finally, I shall employ some of the discourses and reasons discussed in the first and second parts of this paper to highlight the impact of HIV/AIDS on the educational sector of South Africa. I shall draw attention to how some of the taboos discussed earlier have compounded the role of the teacher thereby increasing their vulnerability to acquire the disease. Furthermore, I shall illustrate how this phenomenon is contributing to the abnormally alarming rates of death among teachers and learners; and how this affects educational planning, teaching and learning. This then provides the setting for me to draw a conclusion based on facts, assumptions and discussions on the prevalence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa, which has been the central element of this paper.

As a point of departure I deem it expedient to define discourse, upon which premise I will base my discussions on discourses in circulation in relation to HIV/AIDS in Africa.

2.0 Discourses in circulation in relation to HIV/AIDS

Although Michel Foucault (1977, 1991) has dealt extensively with discourse as a concept, I

would dwell on Said’s (1994:94) and Bryman’s (2008:499) rendition of what Foucault meant by discourse. What I have gathered by Said’s presentation of the concept is that, discourse is a form of knowledge and reality without the originality of an author. Such knowledge and reality develop over a period of time to produce a tradition (Said, 1994:94).

In other words, discourse denotes any ideology or belief engrained in a particular society. This could be in the form of an idea, notion or practice which can normally not be credited to any specific originator, but as the years pass by it becomes part and parcel of the particular group of people. This goes a long way to shape their belief pattern. Once the idea, notion or practice has become a generally accepted view of the majority, the community in question lives by it (Gyekye, 1997: 217). For instance, as Gyekye argues out, although “a large portion of these beliefs and practices inherited from the past, nevertheless does experience varieties of changes over time” (Gyekye, 1997:217), in the African case (and more specifically, Ghana), these discourses become generally accepted and go without questioning (Gyekye, 1997: 228).

In another development, Bryman (2008:499) explains Michel Foucault (1926-84), indicating that “discourse was a term that denoted the way in which a particular set of linguistic categories relating to an object and the ways of depicting it frame the way we comprehend that object” (Bryman, 2008:499). For example, a certain discourse concerning HIV/AIDS comes to make up our conceptions of what the disease looks like and goes a long way to shape our attitude and handling of the disease, and those infected by it. In this way, “it is constitutive of the social world that is the focus of interest or concern”. The “social world” in this paper is Africa, and for that matter, South Africa.

With the above notion of discourse in mind, I would start my discussion with the medical or scientific discourse.

2.1 Medical or Scientific discourse

A good place to begin dealing with discourses in circulation regarding the complex disease HIV/AIDS in Africa is the medical discourse. This cannot be overemphasized, because the medical discourse provides insight into the scientific nature of the disease, its mode of transmission and medically oriented precautions which would lead to its prevention, since it is incurable. Twenty-five years after the discovery of HI/AIDS, no specific scientifically tested and medically proven cure has been found for it (Averting HIV/AIDS, internet 2009). Admittedly, the medical discourse has both the negative and the positive sides to it. However, to satisfy the purpose of my discussion, I shall concentrate on the positive side mostly. The negative side would only come in for purposes of clarification, where necessary.

The scientific discourse in circulation in relation to HIV/AIDS stipulates that, “AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a medical condition. People develop AIDS because HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) has damaged their natural defenses against disease” (Averting HIV/AIDS, internet 2009). This discourse about the name and nature of the disease has permeated not only South Africa in particular and Africa as a whole. It has become a generally accepted view worldwide. The scientific discourse further throws light on the mode of transmission of the disease. It is no gainsaying the widely accepted view that, HIV is spread by sexual contact with an infected person, by sharing needles and/or syringes (primarily for drug injection) with someone who is infected, or, less commonly (and now very rarely in countries where blood is screened for HIV antibodies), through transfusions of infected blood or blood clotting factors. Babies born to HIV-infected women may become infected before or during birth or through breast-feeding after birth. (CDC: 1999:1).

This averts the misleading and ignorantly held misconceptions by certain groups of people that HIV could be acquired through “air, water and insects” (CDC: 1999:2). For instance, if it were true that mosquitoes could spread HIV, the many more pre-adolescent African children would have been diagnosed of the disease due to the prevalence of mosquito bites which produces malaria on the continent. Should the positive scientific discourse about the mode of transmission hold true, then I argue that HIV might not be a water-borne or air-borne disease after all. Otherwise, apart from babies born to infected parents, any innocent person could just contract it by chance.

Due to the scientific discourse on the mode of transmission, there is an equally scientific discourse on preventive measures to curb the spread of the disease. This has been widely propagated both in South Africa and the world at large. Apart from the discourse on being careful about sharing sharp instruments such as blades and needles, medical staffs are advised to screen blood well before transmission. It is interesting to note that while the discourse on sharing items passes on, it has generated a negative discourse which exaggerates that “those who are HIV- positive should also not share towels” Steinberg, 2009: 143).

Nevertheless, since sexual contact is the commonest way of contracting the disease the commonest slogan among HIV/AIDS preventive campaigners in South Africa is “Stop AIDS: Love Life” and the ABC method (Baxen and Breidlid, 2009). “The ABC strategy prioritises ‘A’ for abstinence, ‘B’ for be faithful and ‘C’ for condom use” (Baxen and Breidlid, 2009: 27). As the order goes, this discourse lays more emphasis on abstinence from sex as the surest way of preventing the acquisition of HIV. However, if one finds it difficult to abstain from sex then it is advisable to stick to, and be faithful to, one partner. The last resort then becomes the ‘C’. Should it become necessary for one to get involved sexually with someone who might not be their regular partners, then the use of condoms come in handy for protection against the disease. Despite the knowledge acquired through the already discussed scientific discourse, people still expose themselves to unprotected sex. This is attributable to certain discursive discourses. These discourses would be discussed under the socio-economic discourse which is the next discourse I shall be tackling.

2.2 Socio-economic discourse

The socio-economic discourse in circulation in relation to HIV/AIDS centres around poverty and social pressure. At this stage I find it expedient to have a brief look at poverty before I proceed. Although the notion of poverty is a bit difficult to define, since the concept lends itself to “a certain amount of controversy” (Holmarsdottir, 2006), I agree with Amartya Sen’s (1999, cited in Holmarsdottir, 2006:2) view of considering poverty as “a deprivation of basic capabilities, rather than merely as low income”. This understanding includes many more people in the poverty brackets, especially in South Africa.

The discourse surrounding poverty considers HIV/AIDS as a disease more connected with poverty (Chirambo, 2008, cited in Baxen and Breidlid, 2009:25). This discourse gives rise to the “relevance of including poverty as a contextual variable in any social science discussion of the epidemic” (Chirambo, 2008, cited in Baxen and Breidlid, 2009:25). The poverty-related discourse obliges women and girls to offer sex for money based on the assumption that, “they would rather die of AIDS than of hunger” (Mail & Guardian, 2002, cited in Baxen and Breidlid, 2009:25). Poverty therefore leaves these women a very hard choice to make between “pitiless killers”, hunger and AIDS. Why are they so pushed to the wall?

Holmarsdottir (2006) gives some insight into conditions that might push these women to make such hard choices between two devils. In her presentation of a clearer picture of the incidence of poverty in Africa, down South, Holmarsdottir (2006) cites Tabatabai (1995:30), claiming that …about one third of the population of developing countries live in poverty. The incidence of poverty is now highest in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa (50-60 percent of the population), and lowest in East Asia (about 15 percent).

In the same breath, however, she is quick to admit that “there is an unmistakable trend towards the Africanisation of poverty” (Tabatabai, 1995, cited in Holmarsdottir, 2006:3). Nevertheless, that does not rule out the fact that, although those who engage in sex trade might be well educated about the virus, due to the unfavourable economic situation in South Africa, they engage in “transactional sex” which, in the Zulu culture, is “underpinned by meanings which associate sex with gifts” (LeClerk- Madlala, 2002:31). Supported by the discourse “there is no romance without money” (Mail & Guardian, 2002), females especially, find themselves entrapped in this syndrome. Sex then becomes a currency these women and girls are expected to pay when they find themselves in desperate economic situations. This situation makes the women vulnerable since they have very little power to insist on condom usage under such circumstances (Kelly and Natlabati, 2002:52).

Closely linked with the poverty related discourse is the discourse connected with social pressure. Since sex trade has become the norm of the community of the poor, one is pressurized by society to follow the status quo when the situation becomes desperate. “Individual choices are thus a result of interaction between the individuals’ wishes and desires and the social and cultural practices (discourses) in which the person is socialized” (Laumann & Gagnon, 2005, cited in Baxen and Breidlid, 2009:122). A typical example is found in Ngugi’s Matigari (1989:139-142). In the narrative, the beautiful and an otherwise morally upright and chaste Guthera, finds herself in a desperate situation where survival depended on her ability to sell her virginity for money. Otherwise, she and her younger siblings could not survive after the death of their father. It is worthwhile to note, however, that yielding to the social discourse, what “everybody” sees as expedient under the circumstances might not be the desire of the individual. The fact that one is involved does not necessarily mean the person adores that way of existence, if Guthera’s words, “I don’t like the life I am living… it is like any other animal” (Ngugi, 1989:140), is anything to go by. However, this situation makes the individual vulnerable.

Having discussed the socio-economic discourse which has, embedded in it, some cultural undertones, I shall move on to the traditional discourse which deals more extensively with cultural beliefs related to patriarchal authority and myths.

2.3 Traditional discourse

I begin this paragraph with a definition of the notion of tradition. According to Gyekye (1997:219), “The British Philosopher H.B. Acton defines tradition as ‘a belief or practice transmitted from one generation to another and accepted as authoritative, or deferred to, without argument’.” In a further development, Gyekye (1997:228) declares: “traditions are first and foremost the sum total of what is not argued in the transmission of knowledge and practice from parents to their children.” In other words, tradition connotes a set of values generally accepted as binding, in a defined social setting, once it is coming down from a higher authority. This set of values is accepted without questioning. This definition gives a true picture to what patriarchal authority looks like.

The traditional discourse associated with patriarchal authority holds that whatever is handed down from parents, or adults, for that matter, “is not questioned by its adherents nor thought by them to need justification” (Gyekye, 1997:228). This means that if traditional authorities come to declare that HIV/AIDS does not exist, no one questions it. It becomes a generally accepted view in the community. I therefore argue that patriarchal authority gives credence to the circulation of myths surrounding HIV/AIDS. This scenario, as is the norm in most African cultures, serves as fertile grounds for negative mythological discourse linked to HIV/AIDS.

These cultural practices are linked to myths and beliefs that do not help the prevention of the disease. For instance, Luo elders of Kenya make people believe that AIDS does not exist (Baxen and Breidlid, 2009). Instead, they link all illness to “chira” (curse). Such traditional beliefs leave the vulnerable citizens little choice. Obedience and belief in elders, as tradition dictates, makes it difficult to dispute such claims. It is regarded as part of culture and culture must not be questioned, especially by women or the youth. Once it is coming from the elders (mostly men) the mythological discourse of disbelief in the existence of HIV/AIDS and rather linking the medical condition to a curse becomes credible and must be accepted as such.

At this juncture I shall move to the second part of my paper which entails the reasons for the spread of HIV/ AIDS in certain parts of Africa.

3.0 Reasons for prevalence of HIV/AIDS pandemic in certain parts of Africa

The most rapid increase in South Africa’s HIV prevalence took place between 1993 and 2000, during which time the country was distracted by major political changes. While the attention of the South African people and the world's media was focused on the country's transition from apartheid, HIV was rapidly becoming more widespread. Although the results of these political changes were positive, the spread of the virus was not given the attention that it deserved, and the impact of the epidemic was not acknowledged. It is likely that the severity of the epidemic could have been lessened by prompt action at this time. (HIV and AIDS in South Africa, online).

In this part I shall spend some time to deal with how lack of sufficient attention regarding the discourses tackled in the first part of this article has contributed to aggravating the HIV/AIDS situation in South Africa before dealing with other reasons such as influence of gender roles, rape, myths and misconceptions.

3.1 Lack of sufficient attention regarding discourses

The fact that insufficient attention has been paid to part of the medical discourse discussed above cannot be overemphasized.

The ABC strategy that prioritises ‘A’ for abstinence, ‘B’ for be faithful and ‘C’ for use of condom has been criticized in some quarters in South Africa for paying too little attention to abstinence and faithfulness and placing too much reliance on condoms, especially as regards the allocation of resources in terms of funds spent on their purchase, distribution and promotion. (Baxen and Breidlid, 2009:27-28).

I therefore argue that if so much attention is placed on the distribution of condoms rather than motivation towards behavioral change in deeply rooted sexual practices (other than condom use), then there is little reason why the pandemic would not be on the increase.

The lack of sufficient attention is also fuelled by the attitudes of some of the political leaders of South Africa. A case in question took place in the year 2000,

The Department of Health outlined a five-year plan to combat AIDS, HIV and STIs. A National AIDS Council was set up to oversee these developments. At the International AIDS Conference in Durban, the new South African President Thabo Mbeki made a speech that avoided reference to HIV and instead focused on the problem of poverty, fuelling suspicions that he saw poverty, rather than HIV, as the main cause of AIDS. President Mbeki consulted a number of ‘dissident’ scientists who rejected the link between HIV and AIDS. (HIV and AIDS in South Africa, online).

Furthermore, in 2006 - Jacob Zuma, the current South African President, went on trial for allegedly raping an HIV-positive woman. He argued that she had consented to sex and was eventually found not guilty, but attracted controversy when he stated that he had showered after sex in the belief that this would reduce his chances of becoming infected with HIV. Criticism of the government’s response to AIDS heightened, with UN special envoy Stephen Lewis attacking the government as ‘obtuse and negligent’ at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto. (HIV and AIDS in South Africa, online).

I maintain that if such important political figures make such unhelpful utterances concerning HIV/AIDS then it makes it more difficult for the ordinary citizen to hold a more positive attitude towards the curb of the pandemic. This goes to buttress the point by Baxen and Breidlid (2009:117 ) that “responses and interpretations of the pandemic are often presented in ways that do not always offer choice to, especially, the more vulnerable members of the population (women and youth)”. If the traditional discourse on patriarchal authority is anything to go by, given that majority of South African adhere to tradition, then the citizens have little choice but to go by what their leaders say. Why then would HIV/AIDS infection not be on the increase?

That is not all. Lack of attention also concerns the socio-economic discourse. To advance my points in this regard, I would first like to refer to Steiner-Khamsi (2004:20) who claims

the virus continued to kill in Africa. In 2000, an estimated 38.5% of Botswana’s population aged 15-49 carried the virus, with rates substantially higher for women. The hardest hit countries --- Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia --- had neither the financial means nor the delivery systems to get life saving drugs to their ailing populations. The above citation identifies poverty as the major cause for the pandemic continuing to kill people in the above mentioned countries. I therefore deduce that if poverty has contributed so much to people being forced into sexual behaviour which makes them vulnerable, as discussed under the socio-economic discourse; and at the same time, this same poverty is causing people to die due to lack of funds to get antiretroviral drugs, then governments need to pay more attention to poverty alleviation strategies. Where this is lacking and poverty continues to plague the populace, HIV infection would invariably be on the increase. Nattrass (2004:29) can therefore not be wrong when he says “since malnutrition and parasitic infection increase HIV susceptibility, there is good reason for assuming that poverty is a breeding ground for the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Having said the above, I would now move on to assign other reasons for the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

3.2 Gender roles in the South African society

There are certain cultural concepts, traditions and norms that favour the spread of the disease. The first has to do with gender roles in the South African society. The concept of hegemonic masculinity makes it such that the male has the tendency to dominate in all situations, including sex, while the female is relegated to subjugation (Baxen and Breidlid, 2009). A study among the Xhosa people in the Eastern Cape of South Africa by Karim (2005), cited in Baxen and Breidlid (2009:110) relates what a black female respondent said:

Some boys are really controlling, and we can do nothing about it. If he wants to have sex, you got to have sex. Otherwise he will beat you up. Guys usually force girls to have sex with them. Most of them don’t take no for an answer. What mostly happens is that she will fall for the threat and sleep with him.

Why should boys have such tendencies while the girls yield to them? I assert this is as a result of the traditional roles assigned to the different sexes. According to a survey carried out in Nigeria by the Multi-sector Project Limited (MPL, 2004, cited in Akpabli (2008:48), males are socialized to “act tough” and perceive themselves invulnerable to sickness, mistakes, etc. They enjoy a number of privileges, including unlimited culturally protected sexual freedom that gives a man sexual right over many women…liberty to have sex with many partners is a male social code across ethnic groups.

In another development, a survey conducted in Ghana by the National HIV/AIDS Control Programme (2005), cited in Akpabli (2008:47) reveals that women are taught from early childhood to be obedient and submissive to males…in sexual relations, a woman is expected to please her male partner, even at the expense of her own health…culturally accepted power relations between couples favour males, allowing men to take undue advantage of women and accelerating the spread of HIV.

The above revelations provide me enough grounds to argue that, due to these cultural roles

assigned to the two sexes, the spread of HIV is really on the ascendancy. Men tend to show their masculinity by how many women they can have sex with as possible. Considering the above mentality, a man who does not have multiple sexual partners may be considered as weak. One is forced to do some of these things although his better judgement tells him that it is wrong. If the norm therefore is sexual promiscuity, then it must be, and this perpetuates the spread of HIV/AIDS. As tradition dictates, according to the above survey, the woman, on the other hand has not got much of a say in these sexual matters, since her role is to satisfy the man as and when he demands sex. She remains at the receiving end. It is therefore not surprising when Steiner- Khamsi (2004:20) discovers statistically that the “population aged 15-49 carried the virus, with rates substantially higher for women.”

Another reason for the spread of the disease is the high incidence of rape, which I would be discussing next.

3.3 High incidence of rape

With the above hegemony accorded the males, it has become common knowledge that “guys usually force girls to have sex with them” (Karim, 2005, cited in Baxen and Breidlid, 2009:110). In some of the cases the victims might want to show resistance, but “what mostly happens is that she will fall for the threat and sleep with him…because of the violence” (Karim, 2005, cited in Baxen and Breidlid, 2009:110). Judging from the above, I ascribe rape as one of the major reasons for the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Having already considered the role of subjugation culturally assigned to women, the document on HIV/AIDS in South Africa (online) reveals that

They are also particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and rape, and are economically and socially subordinate to men. Police reports suggest that in 2004-2005 there were at least 55,114 cases of rape in South Africa, although the actual figure is undoubtedly higher than this since the majority of cases go unreported. In a 2006 study of 1,370 South African men, nearly one fifth revealed that they had raped a woman. Rape plays a significant role in the high prevalence of HIV among women in South Africa.

My next reason for the prevalence of the pandemic has to do with myths and misconceptions.

3.4 Myths and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS

There are certain myths and misconceptions embedded in the south African culture where

“sickness and death are most often not considered natural events, but ascribed to evil spirits and breaches of taboos” (Caldwell et al, 1999, cited in Baxen and Breidlid, 2009: 23). These myths, to a large extent, explain the Africans’ belief in the supernatural. From the above assertion I infer that every sickness, disease condition or death in Africa has a spiritual connotation to it. The tendency to consult the gods or ancestors through the fetish priests is very high, due to superstition. It means Africans do not believe in chance occurrence or assign natural causes to situations. That explains why Gyekye (1997:233) asserts “people tend to ground causal explanation in supernaturalism or fantastic metaphysics”.

Looking at the above explanation I can conveniently conclude that the belief system in Africa is such that once a spiritual flavour is attached to a situation it spreads like wild fire. When such superstition is attached to the disease condition it becomes rather difficult to ascribe to scientific means of prevention. As long as such myths eat into the fabric of the society other interventions appear foreign and are hard to imbibe by the locals. “While some myths are harmless (‘African potato cures AIDS’), others are critically dangerous to the spreading of HIV, particularly the myth that having sex with a virgin or baby will provide a cure” Baxen and Breidlid, 2009:25). Such a misconception encourages indiscriminate rape of children and young ladies suspected to be virgins. Since such perpetrators are HIV positive the virus continues to spread.

Taking for instance, the erroneous perception that “HIV can be caused by witchcraft” (Baxen and Breidlid, 2009:25) coupled with the misconception in black regions of South Africa, “that the virus was hatched in the laboratories to be let loose on blacks until whites become an electoral majority” (Breidlid and Kadalie, 2009); this weakens intervention strategies, and the HIV situation worsens. There is therefore no need or justification to take refuge in supernatural or fatalistic metaphysical causal explanations for phenomena, such as the African predicament, that can be causally explained in rational terms, that is, by exploring the underlying reasons. (Gyekye, 1997:233).

This leads me to my third part, to explore the effects of HIV/AIDS on the educational sector of South Africa.

4.0 The impact of HIV/AIDS on the educational sector of South Africa

It is no gainsaying that HIV/AIDS has affected the active working force of South Africa. More alarming is the case where the younger generations are becoming more and more infected by the day, as Steiner- Khamsi puts it:

Global connections facilitated the world’s influenza pandemic of 1918 and the spread of AIDS through Africa and Asia after 1990. AIDS devastates sexually active segments of populations and their children so rapidly, in fact, that it could easily obliterate economic growth in the hardest hit African countries.

In the present South Africa, more than a quarter of the national health budget is gone into fighting the disease. A look at Anders and Kadalie’s (2009) article reveals that in Free State Province the health department has run out of antiretroviral medicines. This means that those whose livelihood depended on their ability to get these drugs stand a great risk. The economic landscape is therefore seriously endangered. The Education sector is no exception.

The World Bank (2000) “indicate that little is known about the effects of the pandemic on the various components within the education sector, particularly those in third world contexts”, cited in Baxen and Breidlid (2009:117). This lack of knowledge syndrome has therefore attracted the attention of researchers to conduct studies into the area and come out with findings that would help sustain the sector which is at serious risk. This is revealed in no uncertain terms by Peltzer et al, 2005, cited in Baxen and Breidlid (2009:13):

The impact of HIV/AIDS on the education sector has not only been the focus of much conjecture, but also numerous studies…have illustrated. Its devastating effect on the education system and on learners and teachers has become more visible with studies like those by the Human Science Research Council.

This means one of the main concerns of researchers now is the effect of this pandemic on education which is a key element of every developing nation. Researchers are seriously looking into this novel area in order to salvage this all-important sector from total collapse in future. One such study which was conducted by Johnson (2000), in talking about preventive programmes, conjectures that:

It has to recognize that a significance percentage of the teaching corps will become ill and die. Learner numbers will at first escalate, but thereafter decline due to illness or home circumstances…Not only will schools have to deal with aspects such as absenteeism by teachers, but they will have to deal with children who are affected, infected and orphaned as a result of the pandemic. (Baxen and Breidlid, 2004:12).

The above revelation is rather frightening, taking into consideration what this would mean to the already weak economic level of African countries. If the rate of infection should continue to escalate as it is doing now then in future teachers would be lacking seriously in the classrooms. This is not hard to come by because, the phenomenon has already started in South Africa. Schools have fewer teachers because of the AIDS epidemic. In 2006 it was estimated that 21% of teachers in South Africa were living with HIVAs a teacher in South Africa it was reported in The Daily Dispatch: Bulletin (January 2008 edition) that the Eastern Cape alone was in need of Twenty Thousand (20,000) teachers to teach in the schools. There were other causes such as teachers getting better paid jobs and therefore leaving the teaching service. However, this lack of teachers was primarily due to loss of teaching staff through death. According to the bulletin, over 70% of these deaths were as a result of AIDS-related ailments and murder (HIV/AIDS in South Africa, online). If the trend should continue the danger of losing substantial teaching staff would be more and more devastating.

The above further asserts that the problem would not only affect teaching staff but learners as well. As rightly pointed out, due increase in population the number of learners enrolled into schools are bound to rise, but as time goes on it would begin to decline. It might not necessarily be due to HIV/AIDS. Some might be as a result of teenage pregnancy. These days, teenagers have found antidotes to that in the form of contraceptives and abortion, however the case might be. But the more imminent is the reduction due to HIV infection. It occurred in some of the schools where I taught, where learners quietly withdrew from the school as a result of stigmatization. In any case, as the document assets, some may also withdraw as a result of losing their benefactors to HIV/AIDS. The education sector is therefore in serious jeopardy if prevention strategies are not stemmed up the check the rise of the infection rate among students and teachers.

Are there any reasons to be assigned, why teachers and learners should also be at risk to such an extent? Coombe (2000), cited in Baxen and Breidlid (2004:13), identified teachers as one of the population groups especially at risk because they are “educated, mobile and relatively affluent”. The problem is therefore viewed as a social and institutional problem. With teachers’ involvement with the student opposite sex and their interaction and status with the general public due to their position in society it makes them vulnerable. They can pick up the virus from such sexual encounters. In the same vein learners become vulnerable due to their involvements with their educators who might be carriers. They may also thereby pass it on to their colleague youngsters who might make sexual advances at them. The trend may continue unending, affecting the future of the educational sector.

There is an assumption that teachers can, are able to teach and will teach about deeply private, personal topics in a public space which brings their own sexuality and sexual practices into the spotlight (Baxen and Breidlid, 2004:13). Since sex education is viewed as a taboo or never spoken about in the house in African contexts, teachers assume such roles which in effect expose them to such dangers. In such circumstances the closest person is the teacher who is able to communicate to some level with them on such intimate matters. The inevitable happens. The trend therefore continues with its concomitant underpinnings.

The overall impact of this is that “education departments will not be able to make reliable predictions about future needs. The departments will also suffer personnel losses in administration, management and support areas” (Kelly, 2000:9). This means since education departments might not know how many teachers would suddenly be lost to AIDS their projections would invariably be based on trial and error. In the same way, making provision for learners would also be faulty due to the same reasons. Very vital departmental personnel who might be on sensitive schedules could suddenly be lost to AIDS and continuity becomes the allencompassing concern of education authorities.

5.0 Conclusion

With the foregoing assumptions, it behooves on African leaders, policy makers, educators, learners, parents and people of all walks of life to step up the fight against this “number one” killer: HIV/AIDS. As the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”. Unfortunately, in this case, there is no cure. Once it is contracted, the result is imminent death. It might not be a one- day job. It would surely take a long time, but there must be no giving up. Everyone is vulnerable. South Africans cannot downplay the need to change unhealthy sexual habits and do away with obnoxious cultural beliefs, norms and practices that favour the spread of HIV/AIDS.

6.0 References

Ngugi, W.T. (1998). Matigari. Heinemann International Literature and Text books, Oxford. Steinberg, J. (2009). The Three Letter Plague. Vintage Books, London. Steiner-Khamsi, G. (2004). The Global Politics of Educational Borrowing and Lending. Teachers College Press, Columbia University, New York.

Akpabli, J.K. (2008). The impact of tradition and modernity on socialization, sexuality and HIV/AIDS in Ghana: A study in the Ketu District of the Volta Region.

Oslo University College, Oslo.

Holmarsdottir, H.B. (2006). Education and Development: A conflict of meaning? Universitet i Oslo.

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University of Oslo – Oslo University College, Norway
aids africa discourses surrounding spread case south




Title: Why would AIDS not stop in Africa? Discourses Surrounding the Spread of AIDS in Africa