The Hand of Death


"No other place on earth has been as devastated by the AIDS virus as southern Africa. This is the story of what happens when a disease infects not just individuals but entire societies-swallowing families, communities and hopes, and raising the question of whether the rest of the world's reluctance to do more against this modern curse amounts to an enormous crime against humanity.

"So far, 17 million Africans have died of AIDS, more than 3.7 million of them children and 12 million additional children have been orphaned by AIDS. An estimated 8.8% of adults in Africa are infected with HIV/AIDS, and in seven countries, at least 1 adult in 5 is living with HIV: Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, South Africa and Namibia. . At least 25 million may follow. And, this may be low since there is no broad-scale AIDS testing: infection rates are calculated mainly from the presence of HIV in pregnant women. Death certificates in these countries do not record AIDS as the cause. " Time magazine's 2/12/01 issue makes a twenty page intimate look at this modern curse.

"Death stalks a continent. In the dry timber of African societies, AIDS was a spark. The conflagration it set off continues to kill millions.

"Imagine your life this way. You get up in the morning and breakfast with your three kids. One is already doomed to die in infancy. You risk your life in every act of sexual intercourse. You go to work past a house where a teenager lives alone tending young siblings without any source of income. At another house, the wife was branded a whore when she asked her husband to use a condom, beaten silly and thrown into the streets. Over there lies a man desperately sick without access to a doctor or clinic or medicine or food or blankets or even a kind word. At work you eat with colleagues, and every third one is already fatally ill. You whisper about a friend who admitted she had the plague and whose neighbors stoned her to death. Your leisure is occupied by the funerals you attend every Saturday. You go to bed fearing adults your age will not live into their 40s. You and your neighbors and your political and popular leaders act as if nothing is happening."

"As the HIV virus sweeps mercilessly through these lands, a few try to address the terrible depredation. The rest of society looks away. Flesh and muscle melt from the bones of the sick in packed hospital wards and lonely bush kraals. Corpses stack up in morgues until those on top crush the identity from the faces underneath. Raw earth mounds scar the landscape, grave after grave without name or number. Bereft children grieve for parents lost in their prime, for siblings scattered to the winds.

The victims don't cry out. Doctors and obituaries do not give the killer its name. Families recoil in shame. Leaders shirk responsibility. The stubborn silence heralds victory for the disease: denial cannot keep the virus at bay.

"The developed world is largely silent too. AIDS in African has never commanded the full-bore response the West has brought to other, sometimes lesser, travails. We pay sporadic attention, turning on the spotlight when an international conference occurs, then turning it off. Goodhearted donors donate; governments acknowledge that more needs to be done. But think how different the effort would be if what is happening here were happening in the West.

"The deep silence that makes African leaders and societies want to deny the problem, the corruption and incompetence that render them helpless is something the West cannot fix. But the fact that they are poor is not. The wealthy world must help with its zeal and its cash if southern Africa is ever to be freed of the AIDS plague."

And, until their children are safe, our children are not.

Source: Time magazine, 2/12/01

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Stealing the lives of our friends and our loved ones, AIDS steals our dialogue, or poisons it with inhibited self-consciousness. - Michael Feingold

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