When President Thabo Mbeki asked the question, I couldn’t conceive why he would raise this issue when the pandemic is destroying the nation. The question he posed was: how can a virus (HIV) cause a syndrome (AIDS)? Mbeki and a couple of other “denialists” (Scientists) believed that this could not be the case. This caused a considerable amount of controversy, at a time when South Africa had the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence and AIDS related deaths in the world. But does the question have any merit and should we rethink the HIV and AIDS strategy all together? Well let’s start with definitions as this is where the debate and questions start. We all know that AIDS is an acronym for acquired immune defiency syndrome. But what is a syndrome really? It’s a collection of diseases. This could be a combination of TB, diarrhoea, some cancers and even herpes. Hence people die not from AIDS itself but from the diseases related to it. We all know that HIV, a virus, as believed in the medical profession can cause disease. So how can a syndrome be “acquired” from a single HI virus? The fact that there is no cure or at least universally operational vaccine for HIV/AIDS means that we haven’t exactly figured out the whole picture yet. Mbeki claimed that there could be more to this than simple microbiology. Conventional medicine says that when one contracts HIV, it starts attacking your immune system. This means that over time your immune system is weakened by the virus until at some stage your immune system (measured by a CD4 count) will reach a low stage where you are termed to have AIDS. When one goes for an HIV test, what the test checks for really is the response of your immune system to what is causing it harm. Several things can lower your immune system. It could be poverty, malnutrition, contaminated water and TB. In fact if one has contracted TB and tests for HIV it could turn out to be positive (even though the person is HIV negative) as the common (determine rapid) test simply checks the immune system’s response to what is causing it harm. So would one say that TB can cause AIDS? The debate gets more complex and involves more factors. It would appear that other factors that cause harm to the immune system should be brought to the table, such as: poverty, malnutrition and the psychological impacts of the two. This is not only medically motivated but also politically driven. The controversy involves big pharmaceuticals, racism and even afro-perssimism. When you look at HIV/AIDS from the conventional point of view, then the response is one dimensional. HIV causes AIDS, AIDS causes Death. You then end up with the following problems and/or solutions: • The first solution is either an HIV vaccination (not available) or prevention (possible) through abstinence and condoms. • The second solution is that when one contracts HIV, use pharmaceutical solutions and take ARVs to strengthen the immune system. This will not cure you (outside 72 hours of contraction) from the virus but mitigate the progression to AIDS. • The third solution is when one has full blown AIDS, attempt to mitigate death by relieving symptoms that may appear at the time (depending on the disease). • The other solution is to remove the stigma attached to the AIDS related death through campaigns. One can tell that other than the first solution this is a losing battle. Individuals can live for several years with HIV before it becomes full blown AIDS. Just as long as one has a good immune system that can prevent the progression of the diseases that really cause AIDS. The other side of the argument that involves poverty, malnutrition and psychological effects of these two, is more adapted to solve the problem in sub-Saharan Africa. So here are the claims and propositions from the other (“dissident”) side: • The first is step understanding that HIV alone cannot cause AIDS. Several things can make one’s immunity deficient and cause a syndrome. • ARVs cannot be fully efficient when taken with a diet that is not nutritious. This could even be toxic. • Pharmaceuticals are attempting to make money off the suffering of millions. One person with HIV can live long with a good diet and not ARVs. • Attach poverty as a considerable factor that causes AIDS when one contracts HIV. Without a diet that boosts the immune system and water contamination, the body could be prone to harmful diseases that collectively could cause AIDS. • Poverty leads to risky sexual behaviour among young women, which initiates the transfer of HIV. While I might be on the side that believes that HIV does cause AIDS, I believe that the approach to be taken in order to rid South Africa of the disease is the dissident approach. This could have far better imoact than just labelling the disease as a black related disease instead of a poverty related one. This shifts the stigma from people to a condition. In sub-Saharan Africa poverty can be attributed to several issues such as: poor economic policy, apartheid and lack of wealth redistribution. The effect of moving from blaming HIV prevalence on “sex crazed black people” to also taking into account the poverty relation also reduces the stigma of having initialy contracted HIV. More people may be willing to take tests (the accurate one hopefully). Our best efforts at the moment could be to use a condom. So to all youth: use a condom. Girls are hot, condoms are hotter.
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