Friday, March 10, 2006

Depressing Data

Sorry I didn't write more about the Jacob Zuma trial, as promised. In due course. My blood is boiling too much from the pro-Zuma protesters outside the Johannesburg High Court with their "burn the bitch" placards. This is a tragic time in South African history- an alleged rape victim having to recount every past sexual experience for a hungry and vengeful public. What a state of affairs when the victim cannot enter the courtroom unless she is masked and covered, and the defendant smirks in designer suits and swaggers to his adoring fans.

I was struck with some fascinating new data on HIV/AIDS released by Wits on Wednesday. Dr. Francois Venter, my hero, and the Wits clinician in charge of the Esselen Street Project and provider of anti-retroviral treatment to the Johannesburg General Hospital, spoke candidly about the immense failure of the HIV prevention program in South Africa, even with enormous sums of money spent by government, international funding programs, and the private sector. He predicts that within his lifetime, 50% of all South Africans will be HIV-positive.

Even more terrifying is recent Wits RHRU (Reproductive Health and Research Unit) data showing that 50% of all HIV-positive individuals in South African self-report having no risk factors. This shocker means that there is major incongruence between perception of risk and actual engagement in risky behavior.

Dr. Venter uses a blunt voice when assessing the current state of anti-retroviral treatment: "We sweated blood to get 130,000 South Africans on HAART this year. Those we didn't get to (another 370,000) will grow sicker and die shortly. This state of affairs will grow exponentially in the next years."

Dr. Helen Rees, Executive Director of the RHRU at Wits and one of the world's most celebrated and leading HIV researchers, confirmed new data showing that in South Africa, 25% of young women under 25 are HIV-positive. It is likely that amongst our female students, 25% are HIV-positive and have little sense of their own risk or impending illness.

I just wrote like 800 words of analysis on the above data and thanks to the decaying electrical grid in South Africa (thanks Eskom!), lost it all. But the data speaks for itself, so perhaps you're better off without my take on it. So pissed. You'll just have to wait until later then.

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