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What’s not needed this World AIDS Day

1 December 2011

Today marks World AIDS Day. If we look at Google Trends, it’s a day we search to learn about World AIDS Day (though we’ve been doing that less and less since 2004). It’s also a day the media has increasingly reported on World AIDS Day:

output of a "World AIDS Day" search on Google Trends, Dec. 1, 2011

I’ve wondered before if the day is a bit commercialized — and in line with that — on the eve of World AIDS Day, Bono showed up on The Daily Show to promote his RED campaign. To be fair, in the time he discussed efforts related to AIDS (the last part of the interview), he said things that are true, if in need of some more context and background.

I’m usually asked on World AIDS Day what people can do and what needs to be done, so thought I’d share one important bit: Africans aren’t in need of awareness-raising. As we should expect from people living in a high-HIV context, likely knowing someone to have died of AIDS: they know about AIDS. In fact, many of them know enough to know how to protect themselves from AIDS, according to recently released poll data from Gallup.

In fact, as I illustrate in a footnote of a paper currently under review, Malawians know more about AIDS than Americans:

For the sake of comparison, the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey in 2004 reported 82% of women and 90% of men know HIV infection is not transmitted by food, whereas 51% of Americans surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2009 stated they would be uncomfortable having their food prepared by an HIV-positive person.

Of course, that knowledge hasn’t necessarily translated into high coverage of condom use (pun intended). Again, from the Gallup poll:

Unlike many in the international community, I am not a huge believer in the condom as a way to stop HIV/AIDS. Certainly, protected sex reduces your likelihood of transmission, especially when compared to unprotected sex. However, I have yet to meet someone who actually enjoys using condoms. Of course, if your life and your future is on the line, it should be worth it. But condom use is more complicated than we think, especially if we stop to consider the meaning of condom use. In rural Malawi:

Condom use signifies a risky, less serious, and less intimate partner. Even when people believe that condom use is appropriate, wise, or even a matter of life and death, the statement that condom use makes about a relationship usually trumps all other meanings.

So, this World AIDS Day, I’m not going to be the one to tell you to buy some RED thing from Starbucks/Apple/Motorola/etc., nor will I encourage you to volunteer to teach Africans about AIDS or support some condom fundraising campaign. People live with AIDS all over the world, not just in Africa. If you really want to do something, find a local AIDS service organization and make a contribution of your time, money, or effort there. If you absolutely must do something about AIDS in Africa (and I want you to think long and hard about that, if that’s the case), I encourage you to make a contribution that would increase availability of HIV testing. I believe knowledge is power, even in a context where resources are limited. Of course, after about an hour of digging around the internet, I couldn’t find an organization that allowed you to give specifically to HIV testing. Maybe a haba na haba reader can post such a specific link in the comments.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 December 2011 10:24 am

    Hi there,

    St. Francis Health Care Services in Jinja, Uganda, has staffers who travel around and do HIV testing. St. Francis is a great homegrown NGO run by Ugandans; I had the chance to spend a lot of time with them earlier this year when I filmed a story on the clinic. The founder and director won an award for his HIV/AIDS prevention work from President Yoweri Museveni a couple years ago.

    Brochure with bit of info about HIV testing:

    Also, here’s the story I produced about St. Francis:



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