Project: The African AIDS Pandemic

AIDS crisis leads to journey of discovery

by John Carr

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and is transmitted through sexual contact, hypodermic needles and breastfeeding. A person is first infected with the virus, then, for years, their immune system builds antibodies to fight the virus. HIV tests look for the presence of these antibodies in blood. Eventually, if the immune system is worn down enough, the patient will develop AIDS.

HIV/AIDS is devastating the world, especially Africa. The only treatment options are antiretroviral drugs, which inhibit the virus. Numerous African nations have denied the pandemic or do not have the resources to address the issue. African cultural practices have further exacerbated HIV/AIDS as compared to other places in the world.

United Nations AIDS statistics for 2007 report over 25 million AIDS-related deaths, resulting in 12 million orphans since 1981 and alarming high HIV/AIDS rates for sub-Saharan Africa. These rates, nearly 40 percent in some countries, are destabilizing the governments of these countries by destroying human capital. HIV/AIDS is threatening personal and national peace and security.

It is important local and national governments and the world know how and why HIV/AIDS spreads and what can be done to curb it to prevent misery, death and social unrest. I am fortunate and humbled to be the recipient to receive a grant to see these countries and their HIV/AIDS efforts first hand. In the following articles I describe my journey through southern Africa studying the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Therefore, I would like to thank Margaret McCaleb and the late Kenneth McCaleb for enabling myself and others to shine light on global issues through establishing the McCaleb Initiative for Peace.

I would like to thank Dr. William Kumbier, Professor of English at Missouri Southern, for providing guidance, support and advice to make this project possible. Dr. Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute of International Studies, and Sheira Whetstone, secretary of the Institute of International Studies, provided tremendous help on the logistics of the project.

I would also like to thank countless people across Africa who provided insight and interviews including friends in South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana. First-hand experience outweighs any readings.

Finally, I would like to thank my father, Chuck, for his support of this project.