Monday, July 20, 2009

Public health in Africa Part 1: HIV

My trip to Africa was amazing! Beyond the huge number of animals we saw, interacting with the people was an especially wonderful component of the trip. We went to Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, with a stop in South Africa.

Africa is a complex continent, especially when it comes to HIV. The HIV rates are staggering. In Botswana, 23.9% of adults are infected with HIV, an unbelievable figure. Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa are slightly lower, but not much. This article published in today's NY Times details South Africa's lag in circumcision and fighting their high HIV rate.

While in South Africa for the day, my family and I visited a public hospital in Johannesburg. It was a sobering visit. We saw overcrowded wards, almost 100 children in a pediatric ward that is supposed to house many fewer patients. The neonatal intensive care unit was also overburdened, a unit whose patients need critical personalized care. The hospital was in need of supplies and staff. One nurse told us that they have a big problem with orphans whose parents have died of AIDS. It was very eye-opening.

We saw several ads for HIV prevention, in the form of posters and billboards. We also saw a free condom dispenser. One of our tour guides wore a T-shirt that said "We are getting tested in Caprivi", a walking advertisement for prevention.

So there is some progress being made. But it is slow. It was quite a trip.

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