Europe and Central Asia
Portions of Europe and central Asia have the world’s fastest-growing number of HIV and AIDS cases (Kelly & Amirkhanian, 2003). As of 2005, there were approximately 1.6 million adults and children living with HIV in this area (UNAIDS, 2005b). The Russian Federation has the largest AIDS epidemic in all of Europe, which is mainly fueled by IV drug use and prostitution. It is estimated that three-quarters of new HIV infections occur in 15- to 29-year-olds. An increase in media coverage in the Russian Federation has helped bring some attention to the increasing numbers of HIV infection (Sternberg, 2004b). This has been due, in part, to a global effort with a variety of U. S. media groups, including Viacom and the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The majority of the world’s HIV-positive people live in sub-Saharan Africa, where close to 60% of the global number of people are living with HIV (and where only 10% of the world’s total population lives; UNAIDS, 2005b; see Figure 15.14). In much of subSaharan Africa, HIV knowledge levels are low and women have lower knowledge levels than men (UNAIDS, 2005b). Among young people, it is estimated that three-quarters of those already infected live in sub-Saharan Africa (Summers et al., 2002). If these facts haven’t blown your mind yet, read on: a 15-year-old in Botswana has an 80% chance of dying from AIDS (Piot, 2000); because of AIDS, the average life span in Swaziland is
now 33 years and is expected to drop to 27 years by the year 2010 (the average life span was 58 years before the AIDS epidemic); and more than 25% of the total population in Swaziland is infected with HIV.
In 2002, South Africa’s Sesame Street unveiled an HIV-positive muppet character, a
5- year-old girl who was orphaned when her parents died of AIDS. Her name is Kami, and she is now a regular part of the Sesame Street lineup in South Africa. Kami’s character was designed to help children in South Africa understand AIDS and teach them it’s okay to play with HIV-positive children.
One of the biggest problems in many parts of Africa is that because of cost, only a small percent of the many people with HIV are receiving HAART therapy. In addition, millions of infected men and women are not being treated for opportunistic diseases. The South African government does not provide HAART therapy drugs to its citizens dying of AIDS. One of the biggest obstacles is President Thabo Mbeki, who doesn’t believe that HIV causes AIDS. Even so, some groups have tried to get HAART therapy to those who need it. Some employers in South Africa have begun providing HAART therapy free of charge to their employees, whereas some drug manufacturers, such as Pfizer, have offered to give AIDS drugs to South Africans for free.
Other problems that have helped fuel the AIDS crisis involve the nature of male – female sexual relationships. This was one woman’s experience getting HIV tested in Zambia:
Kasune Zulu’s doctor refused to perform an HIV test until she had obtained the consent of her husband. When the results came back positive, she was excommunicated from her local church after her husband reported that she wasn’t being submissive. Even traditional counselors in many African societies told her to stop making trouble and obey the man she married. (Schoofs & Zimmerman, 2002, p. D4)
Dangerous cultural myths exist in some parts of South Africa. Groups of HIV-positive men believe that sex with a young virgin will cure them of AIDS (Sidley, 2002). As a result, dozens of babies in South Africa have been raped by HIV-positive men, and the crime is increasing. In 2002, a 9-month-old baby was raped by a group of HIV-positive men and reconstructive surgery was necessary to repair her vagina (Sidley, 2002).