21 April 2006

"Malaria kills 2 children per minute in Africa"

While the world’s eyes are focused on the spread of Avian Flu and HIV/Aids, it seems that one of the world’s biggest killer is slowly being forgotten; Malaria. This parasitic disease, which is spread by mosquitoes, ranks third among major infectious disease threats and is good for 9% of the global disease burden.

Less abstract: Every year Malaria infects between 350 million and 500 million and kills between 1 and 2,7 million people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 90% of the fatalities worldwide occur on the African continent, especially amongst young children. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates that 71% of fatalities in Africa occur amongst children younger than five years of age: “In Africa a child dies every 30 seconds as a result of malaria,” the ICRC says.

Many children who survive severe malaria may suffer from learning impairments or brain damage. Malaria is a major cause of prenatal mortality, low birth weight and maternal anemia amongst pregnant women.

Malaria on the rise

One of the biggest problems concerning Malaria is that the disease is on the rise, despite the pledge of world to intensify the struggle against amongst other malaria. In 2002 191 member states of the United Nations agreed to achieve 8 Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015. The sixth goal deals with the fight against HIV Aids and malaria.

There are several reasons why malaria is on the rise. One of them has to do with immunity of malaria parasite to several malaria prophylaxes. Another cause might be rising temperatures. An international team of scientists claims that global warming and malaria prevalence are linked. "Our results do not mean that temperature is the only or the main factor driving the increase in malaria, but that it is one of many factors that should be considered," said theoretical ecologist Mercedes Pascual from the University of Michigan.

Access to treatment

A third reason of the rise of malaria in Africa has to do with that fact that only a few patients have access to effective treatment that could cure them.

One of the main reasons why the world should do a bigger effort in combating Malaria is that 60 children in Africa died while I was writing this article. They died of a disease that is both easy to cure and easy to prevent.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town/ South Africa

11 April 2006

Zuma's Aids shower: Confusion in South Africa

Jacob Zuma’s testimonies during his court case cause a lot of confusion amongst South Africans. Many people don’t know what and who to believe anymore. Especially when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

What causes most confusion is Zuma’s excuse why he had sex with a woman of whom he knew she was HIV positive. He said he didn’t put his life in jeopardy after having sex with the 31-year old family friend, who happens to be an HIV activist, because he thought the chance of transmitting was “very minimal” because he was a healthy man.

“And I also took a shower,” Zuma, who used to be the chairperson of the South Africa National Aids Council, added last week.

One of the signs of the wide spread confusion amongst South Africans, especially amongst those who didn’t recieve the right education in the first place, is the great number of phone calls received by the National Aids helpline. The NGO said it is being flooded by calls from confused South Africans who don’t know what to believe anymore.

In an interview with the daily newspaper The Star, Hope Mhlongo of the helpline said that women called to ask whether or not they should take a shower after being raped to reduce their risk of HIV infection. “We have to explain to them that this not only does nothing to reduce their risk but instead gets rid of vital evidence that they would need when they laid a rape charge," Mhlongo said.

Zuma’s statement is another blow for the hard work of NGO’s as the South African Aids helpline, an organization that tries very hard to sow Aids awareness in a country where the misconceptions around this horrific disease are plenty. Many NGO’s and doctors in South Africa have said to be are afraid that Zuma’s statement will feed risky sexual behaviour, and that a simple shower will be seen as the newest weapon against AIDS.

It makes me angry. Instead of contributing to the massive Aids problem in his country, a problem that is being fed by many misconceptions, Zuma adds to the list by inventing another myth …

Miriam Mannak / Cape Town

05 April 2006

Jacob Zuma, Aids misconceptions and education

How would you react when some one would come up to you and confessed he / she had unprotected sex with an HIV infected partner? What if this same person was involved in a marriage or long-term relationship? What would you say if he or she would tell you: “Don’t you worry! I have got a very small chance of contracting HIV!”

Personally, I don’t think I could find the words to express my disapproval, my anger, and my worries for his or her partner. Not only is it stupid, in an era where love and lust may kill you, to have unprotected sex, left alone having unprotected sex with someone you know is HIV positive. Especially since there is a partner involved. Stupid does not even put it to assume that the Aids-virus won’t strike you.

Safe sex or no sex

I am obviously referring to South Africa’s former vice-president Jacob Zuma, one of the most controversial yet most popular public figures in the country who faces charges of rape. “I thought that I had a small chance of contracting HIV”, Jacob Zuma stated yesterday in court, on the question why he had unprotected sex with an HIV infected woman*. “Based on what?”, was one of the first things that crossed my mind.

Personally, all through my adolescence up until now, I was told, taught and even ordered: Safe sex or no sex. “Do not jeopardize your life and use a condom”. “Be careful of Aids,” Protect you and your partner: use a rubber”, “Aids isnt picky about its victims: you can be hit too!”. From the moment I became interested in boys, my parents basically ordered my to go to the pharmacy for a family pack of wrappers, despite the fact I was not ready for you-know-what until my early twenties. I am happy for that as I managed to safe guard my life and the lives of others in a very sustainable way.

1500 new infections per day

Not everyone is as lucky. Every year, millions of people worldwide end up in their doctors’ office as a result of unsafe sex, irresponsible behavior or simply bad luck as many contract the virus due to rape. Take South Africa for instance, a country where more than 12% of the population is HIV positive, a country where 1500 people per day contract the deadly virus, a country where an estimate of 800 people per day die as result of the disease.

Some years ago, to bring down the number of yearly HIV infections, South Africa started a condom campaign to promote safe sex. A great step in the right direction, but unfortunately the accessibility of condoms isn’t the sole key player in the promotion of safe sex and the decrease the number of HIV infections. Education is a just as an essential and vital element in finding a solution for the pandemic. What is the point of having access to condoms when there are so many misconceptions about condoms and Aids?

Digging graves

Jacob Zuma proves that Aids education is still needed in all levels of South African society. This well-educated man clearly missed some of the most important sex lessons, including the one stating that the AIDS virus is not picky on its victims. Whether you are poor, rich, black, white, living in a shack or in a mansion, whether you are unemployed or a politician: taking risks and acting irresponsibly means you are digging your own grave. And the saddest thing: You are also digging a grave for everyone else who is directly and indirectly involved.

According to Zuma the sex between him and his complainant – which he at first denied - was based on consent and compliance.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town, South Africa