Peer Educator’s and AIDS in South Africa
Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a worldwide disease. It is a problem many have tried to solve. Since its discovery in the early eighties, there have been more than 25 million people who have died due to this disease. This number is not the total of deaths from AIDS; it is the total number of people that have died due to complications of the disease. Often the death certificate states pneumonia, tuberculosis, infections, and a plethora of other common illness that devastate a person living with this disease rather than AIDS.
When AIDS was discovered it was thought to be a strictly homosexual’s disease. In the early eighties, the only cases reported of this new disease were homosexual, usually white, men. There was a severe epidemic in the San Francisco area of California. This epidemic received worldwide attention. At this time very few doctors knew what they were dealing with. This lack of knowledge lead to many mistakes and myths about origins and causes of this disease. The lack of information and misunderstandings made people diagnosed with this disease” black listed”. Often they were ostracized from their friends and family and eventually died alone in a hospital surrounded by nurses and doctors that did not understand and often feared them. It was a confusing and a new time in America.
As America was slowly learning about this new disease, new reports were popping up worldwide. Every new case revealed new information for doctors and researchers. It did not take long to learn that AIDS was a human disease. No matter a person’s color, religion, sexual preference, or success; all could be infected. South Africans were no different.
In Africa, AIDS was also known as a homosexual disease. Many gay men suffered much the same way as gay men in the United States. They were outcasts, treated poorly in hospitals and usually died alone. The difference in South Africa was that these men were not only suffering from a terrible unknown disease, they were also living in the middle of apartheid. There was so much tension and hate in the country that this disease added fuel to the already explosive fire. It became a different kind of epidemic, especially when reports came out that any person could get the disease; in fact many probably had it already. The country and eventually the world had to find a way to deal with apartheid, AIDS, social and economic problems, death and life in a new world. All of these events and situations were like individual threads in a huge blanket of problems each woven into the next. As a group, there had to be a way to solve this epidemic. To prevent and maybe stop this disease, researchers, doctors, and government needed to begin to speak the language of the victims. This is not something that can be accomplished with a pamphlet, new rules, condoms, and media coverage. It is a problem that is deeply woven into beliefs about spirituality, sexuality, community, medicine, and education. For people to talk honestly and openly the conversation needs to be on their level and in a place they feel comfortable. South Africa is an example of how peer education has influenced the spread and treatment of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS. Some of there programs have influenced the way the world deals with this disease. South Africa is by no measure a model or a how to guide but they have made a difference in how to treat the person not just the disease. To understand the South African epidemic apartheid has to be addressed.
Apartheid is, in very basic terms, radical segregation. It has its roots in the colonial times when the Dutch were in South Africa under British rule. It did not officially become a law until 1948 under the National Party. The National Party governed South Africa until 1994. Under apartheid rule, the country was divided into four different...