In honor of World AIDS Day, we are featuring guest blogger, Erin Polich, MPH. Erin has been an active Boston GLOW volunteer since it was founded. Currently, Polich lives in Juba, South Sudan working as a Communications Consultant for Management Sciences for Health. She received her Masters in Public Health from Boston University where she wrote extensively on reproductive health and family planning internationally. Follow her @E_Poli or her blog http://wp.me/p1mxXs-hx
This year I’m spending World AIDS Day a little differently.
In the past, I’ve spent World AIDS Day doing a number of different activities. As an undergrad, I handed out ribbons and raised awareness about testing sites available near campus. When I worked at a domestic violence shelter, I counseled victims about their heightened risk and encouraged going for testing. One year I was working at an environmental firm when Boston GLOW founder Leah Moschella emailed me and asked, “What are you doing for World AIDS Day?” I realized the answer was “Nothing,” decided that was unacceptable, and then convinced the company to donate 10% of its sales for the next month to an AIDS action group.
Needless to say, World AIDS Day is a day which doesn’t go unnoticed on my calendar.
But this year I’m spending World AIDS Day a little differently. This year I’m spending World AIDS Day in South Sudan.
South Sudan is the world’s newest country, and it is sitting precariously on the edge of a potential HIV explosion, and it is women who will shoulder most of the burden.
South Sudan struggled under more than five decades of civil war which decimated most infrastructures, including health care. Only 25% of the population of South Sudan has access to health facilities in the country, and because of that, most cannot (or do not) seek out things like contraception, treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or regular testing for HIV. All of these complications put people at higher risk for transmission of HIV.
Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, hundreds of thousands who fled South Sudan during the war have come home to rebuild the country. Many come from where they achieved university degrees and higher education. However many of these people are also flooding back to their country from places with higher rates of HIV, putting the home population at a greater risk.
South Sudan remains a paternalistic culture. In short, men make most decisions. More than 80% of the population agrees that a woman who disobeys her husband should be disciplined physically. Polygamy is common and often considered a value of wealth. The combination of these factors means women cannot say no to sex, and that a husband who sleeps around – even with only his other wives – is far more likely to spread infection than someone with only one partner (research shows concurrent partnerships are more likely to spread HIV than multiple separate monogamous partners).
Which is bad news for women.
The 2006 household survey reported 47% of women polled had never heard of HIV, showing that women are not even aware that there is a danger. And less than 10% of women can correctly identify ways to prevent transmission.
Which is bad news for women.
And while Juba booms as the world’s newest capital, it also is beginning to boom as a center of sex trade in the country as desperate women struggle to support families when inflation reaches 70% for the year. Each trick they turn can bring in about 10SSP (about $3). Each night they must pay 50SSP to “rent” a room in a brothel. Like sex workers across the world, the South Sudan sex trade increasingly traps women to a lifestyle frought with dangers of HIV transmission.
More bad news for women.
Across the world, there is a global trend towards the feminization of HIV – due to their lack of education, power, and social status, women are far too often the ones contracting the disease. And the trend in South Sudan does not seem to be proving any differently.
Millions around the world currently infected with HIV choose to live positively– but millions more, as yet uninfected, shouldn’t have to make that choice.
So this year, I’m spending my World AIDS Day in South Sudan. I’m marching in a parade. I’m attending testing clinics with health workers. I’m passing out condoms. I’m talking to everyone I interact with about living positively.
Why? Because in 2011, women in South Sudan should have a chance to not suffer from a disease with no cure.
Join me this World AIDS Day by speaking up about AIDS. Wear a ribbon, get tested, engage in a debate, pass around an article, put a bowl of condoms on your desk (well, ok, that one depends on your workplace climate).
But take a stand and make some noise. Show your voice that you think AIDS is a dirge to women and a threat to the potential of humanity.
Choose to spend your December 1st just a bit differently this year.