Africa Must Change Messaging to Fight HIV


Recently,  researchers, policy makers, and community advocates from over 35 different countries descended on Pittsburgh, PA to attend the 2010 Microbiocides Conference (M2010). 

According to Times Live, “The Microbiocides theme for this year is “Microbiocides: Building Bridges in HIV Prevention,” the goal is to increase collaboration between the basic, clinical, and behavioral scientists, and bridge research with community partners and advocacy groups. The conference brought about discussion on the highly anticipated Tenofovir, the microbicide to prevent HIV transmission, which is set to be released in July. During discussions, many believed that HIV was not being taken seriously in South Africa.

According to Times Live, “Paul McGowan, Marketing Expert, believes that HIV prevention messages were struggling to get through in South Africa since people had reached a “saturation point” on HIV.”

McGowan said that a survey of modern young women found they were not receptive to prevention messages and felt they were not at risk for the virus- in a country where an estimated 10% of the adult population is HIV Positive.

According to Avert, “An estimated 5.7 million people were living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa in 2009, more than in any other country. It is believed that in 2008, over 250,000 South Africans died of AIDS.”

The national transmission rate of HIV from mother to child is approximately 11%. In most instances the virus was transmitted from the child’s mother. Consequently, the HIV-infected child is born into a family where the virus may have already had a severe impact on health, income, productivity and the ability to care for each other.

McGowan believes that the messaging needs to change because people no longer fear HIV/AIDs and many families are dying due to lack of knowledge.

“They had the idea it won’t happen to me, they feel safe, the only sleep with nice people … it is still his decision and to challenge him is to risk the relationship, they don’t talk about HIV and feel it is better not to know than to shatter a dream,” said McGowan.

Not only did the conference discuss the need for new messaging in South Africa when it comes to educating the public about HIV/AIDs, another issue that dominated the conversation was  the high prevalence of HIV among men having sex with men.

“This meeting more than any other has been open and honest about sharing the needs of men who have sex with men, the frequency and urgent need to move ahead in developing rectal microbicides,” Gowan observed.

According to Plus News, “In sub-Saharan Africa, at least 9,200,000 men aged 15 or older are estimated to be HIV-positive, according to the UNAIDS 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic. At the beginning of the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, HIV infected men vastly outnumbered HIV-infected women; today, the situation in most countries is reversed. According to the same UNAIDS report, African women are being infected at an earlier age than men, and the gap in HIV prevalence between men and women continues to grow.”

Even though the discussion focused on messaging, it was clear that AIDS/HIV epidemic is increasing in Africa. It is important for the basic, clinical. behavioral, community advocates and policy makers to come together  to discuss strategies on prevention methods and grassroots efforts. Hopefully with the recent conference, new products and messaging will get through to those communities.

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