What social factors have driven the spread of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa? The Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a disease of the immune system caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV is transmitted via unprotected sexual intercourse, contaminated blood transfusion, contaminated hypodermic needles, and from an infected mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. There is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS. AIDS is a debilitating condition that has great social, psychological and economic impact on both the individual and the wider community. Besides causing physical deterioration of the individual, AIDS can lead to stigmatization and economic hardship. The cost of AIDS to Sub-Saharan Africa is significant: without proper treatment for the HIV/AIDS population, life expectancy would be sharply reduced. The economy would be badly affected due to the loss of labour to death and absenteeism from work, as well as the strain on the healthcare system, which could exacerbate poverty. Due to the long incubation period of the virus, the impact of AIDS on Sub-Saharan Africa will still be deeply felt for years to come even if its spread is halted today. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region worst hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world, and is considered to be the global epicentre of the disease. In 2011, there were approximately 23.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, making up 69 percent of all people suffering from AIDS in the world. Among these people, women are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, making up 58 percent of the population with HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS, 2012). The main mode of transmission of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa is sexual, with 80 percent of adult transmission being heterosexual (Singhal and Howard, 2003). The countries that are most affected lie in East and Southern Africa, including Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. As Sub-Saharan Africa is a demographically and culturally diverse region, the factors responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS are heterogeneous and generalizations are hard to make. To avoid cultural stereotyping and misrepresentation of social and sexual practices within the region, individual case studies of countries only serve as examples and cannot be assumed to be representative of the entire region. In this essay, I will be discussing the interplay of three factors contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa: gender inequality, poverty and the lack of education. I will be examining mainly how gender inequality contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS and how it is compounded by poverty. I have chosen to cast the spotlight on these two factors as their effects pervade the region and are deeply felt by society. It has been noted in previous studies that the spread of HIV/AIDS is worst where poverty and gender inequality are widespread (Collins and Rau, 2000). Education, which may have mitigating effects on poverty and gender inequality, is inextricably linked to the two; and the lack of education contributes to the spread of AIDS both directly and indirectly. As such, I will be looking into how the lack of education fuels poverty and gender inequality in the spread of HIV/AIDS. It must be noted that the spread of HIV/AIDS is by no means limited to only the above-mentioned factors. AIDS is a complex disease anchored in human behaviour, and there is a plethora of factors that contribute to its spread. Some of these include the lack of access to healthcare, stigmatization, civil unrest which leads to breakdown of law and order, and also other cultural, political and historical factors. However, although these factors may be significant and as important in the spread of HIV/AIDS as those singled out, and attempting to explain the spread of HIV/AIDS using a few factors may seem to be simplistic, it is beyond the scope of this essay to delve into their details.
Gender Inequality and the Spread of HIV/AIDS
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