Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “Aids”

World Aids Day

Today is World Aids Day, and this year is also the 30th year since Aids was discovered and named.

This map shows how it has spread around the world in the last 30 years:

For more information see World AIDS Day – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Aids, Atheists, Condoms and Catholics

Some prominent British militant atheists, like Polly Toynbee and Richard Dawkins, have accused the Roman Catholic Church of being responsible for the deaths of millions of people in Africa from Aids, because of their teaching that the use of condoms (and other forms of contraception) is morally wrong. This, claim these atheists, has caused millions of Africans to die from Aids.

Hat-tip to The Pittsford Perennialist: Is the Pope Responsible for the Deaths of Millions of Africans? for the link to this article:

Shameless Popery: What Impact Does Catholic Teaching Have on AIDS in Africa?

This is a common meme. Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins used this same argument to argue that the Catholic Church was in the running for the major institution that “most deserves the title of greatest force for evil in the world.” So let’s tackle this argument head-on: Is the Catholic stance against contraception responsible for the AIDS-related deaths of millions of Africans?

Well, why not see what the data says? After all, these are the same atheists who routinely crow about being interested in real knowledge and reason, rather than faith. So let’s put their faith to the test. If the Catholic Church’s teachings against condoms are causing millions of Africans to contract AIDS, we should expect to see heavily-Catholic countries with far higher AIDS rates than their non-Catholic counterparts. So I decided to compare the rates by region and by country.

The post is quite interesting for the comparative statistics and graphs it gives for the rates of Aids infection, though one could perhaps argue for a long time over the accuracy of the statistics and the reasons for the differences.

But there is really no need for these statistics to show that the arguments of the atheists are not merely wrong, but also remarkably stupid.

I think it is generally accepted that Aids is a sexually-transmitted disease (STD). And one of the main reasons for its spread is sexual promiscuity.

The Roman Catholic Church, however, teaches that sexually promiscuous behaviour, such as fornication and adultery, is morally wrong. If using a condom is regarded as morally wrong, so is fornicating.

So why should people like Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee assume that people who have chosen to ignore their church’s teaching by committing adultery will suddenly start observing it by not using condoms while doing so?

They might well not use condoms while committing adultery, but it is highly unlikely that their church’s teaching on contraception will influence them when they have already chosen to ignore its teaching on adultery.

Or perhaps they think that Tom Lehrer’s satirical song about the Irish lass who murdered members of her family one by one is a serious piece of sociological research:

And when at last the police came by
Sing rickety-tickety-tin
And when at last the police came by
Her little pranks she did not deny
To do so she would have had to lie
And lying, she knew, was a sin, a sin
Lying, she knew, was a sin.

HIV/AIDS Prevention and Sexed Bodies: Rethinking Abstinence in Light of the African AIDS Pandemic:| Theology and Sexuality

HIV/AIDS Prevention and Sexed Bodies: Rethinking Abstinence in Light of the African AIDS Pandemic: Theology and Sexuality:

As churches, non-profits, and governments look for solutions to end the African AIDS pandemic, abstinence has provided a seemingly quick and easy answer that is thought to carry moral weight. Yet abstinence, as it is preached and practiced, is often an immoral option because it does not first consider the full agency of women. In asking why abstinence has been so readily embraced as a response to the African pandemic, assumptions of black sexuality must be brought into question. The tendency to focus on sexual morality rather than on the economic, gender, and social inequalities that cause the spread of AIDS must also be questioned. Through employing a postcolonial critique of abstinence, I argue that when abstinence as morality and abstinence as prevention collapse into one another, there is no space for women to find agency in abstinence. Instead, abstinence must be defined as “space” rather than “prohibition” in order for it to contribute to human flourishing.

Hat-tip to Priestly Goth Blog: paper presentation on AIDS preventiong in Africa for the link.

Unfortunately, just as

so much communication about AIDS in Africa even that which attempts to offer treatment as well as programs of prevention follow colonial patterns of cultural imperialism and that even the language of AIDS is language imposed from others and not taken up from with in African cultural and linguistic matrices

so the pricing of the article follows colonial patterns of cultural imperialism and places it beyond the reach of any but the rich — the cost of a single article being higher than that of a very substantial hard-cover book, so that most people in Africa who probably ought to read it will be unable to afford it.

But Larry Kamphausen provides more information about the paper than can be read in the abstract, and also describes some of the discussion that follows the reading of it, so if you are interested in the topic of HIV/Aids prevention in Africa, his blog post at Priestly Goth Blog: paper presentation on AIDS preventiong in Africa is worth a read.

The Times – Few will turn 50 in SA

According to this report, South Africa’s life expectancy has dropped drastically in the last 10 years.

The Times – Few will turn 50 in SA:

MOST South Africans will not live to celebrate their 50th birthday, just like people living in strife-torn Somalia and impoverished Ethiopia.

A UN Population Fund report puts the life expectancy of the typical South African man at only 48.8 years; women are not expected to live longer than 49.6 years.

This is drastically lower than a decade ago, when the US Census Bureau’s international database put life expectancy at 55.5 years for South Africans.

The most recent estimate of South African life expectancies was less than for people living in Brazil, the murder capital of the world, or for people in war-torn Iraq.

The report, UNFPA State of World Population 2008, states that South Africa has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, with 21.8 percent of all women aged between 15 and 49 being HIV-positive — the fourth-highest rate globally. Only South Africa’s less populous neighbours — Swaziland (32 percent), Botswana (28.9 percent) and Lesotho (27.1 percent) — have worse prevalence figures.

So Southern Africa generally is the region suffering most from HIV/Aids.

In view of this, one wonders why South Africa seems to attract so many immigrants, legal and illegal.

Mbeki — world’s worst President?

John Carlin, writing in the Guardian Unlimited, asks “Is Mandela’s heir one of the world’s worst presidents?” and after praising Mandela goes on to say:

Pity, then, about his successor, Thabo Mbeki, who chose the month when Mandela is immortalised in bronze to remind us of just how far short he falls of the best his country has to offer; how strong a candidate he is to rank, with his friend Robert Mugabe, among the worst Presidents in the world.

That’s really something, in a world in which George Bush and Robert Mugabe are still going strong. Of course Tony Blair was a Prime Minister, not a president, though his style seemed to have a lot in common with P.W. Botha’s imperial presidency. Tony Blair participated enthusiastically in not one, not two, but three wars of aggression, and Carlin has the unmitigated gall to ask if Thabo Mbeki is the worst president in the world?

But since Blair has retired, he’s out of the running. Bush and Mugabe are running neck and neck for first place in the race for the title “Worst president in the world”, so let’s leave them out of it.

I look around the world at presidents and prime ministers in various countries, and ask myself, “Would I rather have X as our president than Thabo Mbeki?” And in most cases, my answer is “No”. For all his faults, Thabo Mbeki is much better than many of the heads of government of other countries.

Who would I rather have?

Gordon Brown? John Howard? Vladimir Putin? Hugo Chavez? Nouri al-Maliki? Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir? Kostas Karamanlis? Angela Merkel? Levy Mwanawasa? Joseph Kabila? Romano Prodi? Guillaume Soro? Alexander Lukashenko? Ali Khamenei? Pervez Musharraf? Ehud Olmert?

I don’t think so!

Does Carlin seriously suggest that Mbeki is worse than all of those?

Mbeki has many faults, most notably his “see no evil” approach to Zimbabwe and his vacillating Aids policy, but he hasn’t yet started any wars of aggression, like Bush, or tried to suppress the opposition by force, like Mugabe.

But I’ve noticed this morning that Sky News is also trying to do a hatchet job on Mbeki, implying that he is urging people to put their faith in quack remedies rather than antiretroviral drugs. What I find interesting is that they don’t provide any evidence of their allegations — if they had a sound bite or a video clip of Thabo Mbeki saying this, it might be more convincing than the unsupported assertions that they have been making.

So I wonder — why do the Brit media suddenly have it in for Thabo Mbeki?

Thanks to Leo Africanus for the tip, though unfortunately he has disabled “Link to this post”.

Traditional healers, Western medicine and HIV/Aids

About 8 months ago I attended a conference on HIV/Aids (see Notes from underground: HIV, Aids etc). It was organised by the South African HIV Clinicians Society for religious leaders, and there were people from various religious backgrounds there — Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, neopagan, paleopagan (the last also represented by a bloke who was trained in both traditional and Western medicine).

One of the problems mentioned by the speakers at the conference was that people with HIV/Aids sometimes consult religious healers who tell them that they have been cured. They do feel better, so they stop taking antiretroviral drugs, and then they begin to feel worse again. The speakers emphasised the point that doing this diminishes the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs, not only for that patient, but for others as well, as the HI virus builds up resistance to the drugs.

But now other things amanzi: madness has posted on another aspect of the relationship between HIV and religious healers that was not mentioned at the conference — the belief, propagated by some sangomas (witchdoctors) that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure Aids, and notes that there seems to be a conspiracy of silence about this belief.

HIV, Aids etc

Yesterday I went to a day-long seminar on HIV and Aids.

It was organised by the HIV Clinicians Society, and it was intended for HIV clinicans and religious leaders, and there were a couple of hundred people there. I won’t try to summarise the proceedings, but a few points might be worth mentioning.

The first speaker was Clem Sunter, who is a motivational goal-setting bloke, and had just returned from helping the Chinese to beef up their economy. So he was dealing with the question of why it was necessary to have such a seminar. One of the questions he asks in these exercises is “What has changed in the last 5-10 years, and what hasn’t changed?” And in this case he noted the following:

  • People are dying. The death rate, especially among people aged 25-35, has risen dramatically.
  • More people are infected
  • There are more players in the game, including the government
  • There have been advances in drugs, including triple-drug therapy
  • There is little change in prevention

Professor Des Martin spoke on transmission and testing, from the clinical point of view — what is known about how HIV is transmitted, the progression of the disease, and advances in testing. Professor Rachel Jewkes spoke on transmission from an epidemiological point of view. Zackie Achmat, the flamboyant Aids activist, gave another motivational presentation from a somewhat different point of view. And so it went.

Speaking for myself, I found it useful to catch up. Some things had not changed — there seems to be little known about transmission that was not known 5-10 years ago. What has changed quite dramatically is methods of treatment. Dr Leon Levin, a paediatrician, spoke on treatment of children with HIV/Aids. Most of the children with HIV infection would die in 4-8 years if untreated. Many people asked if there was therefore any point in treating such children, if they were going to die anyway. He said that in his clinical practice he had seen dramatic improvement in the health and quality of life of children after treatment.

All the medical speakers emphasised this point. There is no cure for Aids, just as there is no cure for diabetes, or high blood pressure or heart disease. Those who have the disease will have to continue treatment for life. If they stop their medication, the disease will return, and they will die. But the record of treatment for HIV/Aids is much better than that for other chronic diseases. It is more effective than the drugs used for treating heart disease, blood pressure etc.

I found the most useful part of the seminar the factual and scientific information given. When it got on to the role of religious groups, it tended to get fuzzy. Trying to say things that are acceptable or applicable or all religious groups tends to make those things vague and ineffectual. It might be better to disseminate the facts, and then let each religious group to work out for itself how it will interpret and apply the facts.

But there are some questions that one can ask about Aids and its social impact.

One was highlighted the very next day, when there was a news report about a doctor who was facing disciplinary action from a medical body for listing Aids as a cause of death on a death certificate, on the grounds that this was an invasion of the privacy of the patients, and threatened the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship.

That seems a strange kind of reasoning, as surely the same would apply to any other cause of death. If it is such a threat to privacy and patient confidentiality, then surely no causes of death should be recorded on any death certificates at all.

There are several good reasons for recording the cause of death on death certificates: to see if death was caused by foul play, to see what is statistically responsible for most deaths, which can guide efforts aimed at prevention or cure — should we concentrate our efforts on reducing deaths from road accidents, or snake bites, for example. Which kills more people — shark bites or mosquito bites?

The other thing is that at this Aids seminar, and in many other similar seminars, people have urged that the stigma must be removed from Aids. But surely keeping it off death certificates is one thing that perpetuates the stigma. When medical people speak with two voices, one urging the removal of the stigma, and the other urging its retention, to the extent of prosecuting those who list it as a cause of death, there will never be concerted action against this epidemic.

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