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Tolerance has come a long way

World AIDS Day was observed Sunday. Personally, I’m amazed by how far we’ve come in terms of awareness during my lifetime.

I remember I was like 8 or 9 and heard a public service announcement about condom use. Now condoms are advertised on television and radio. You’re probably even thinking about the “Trojan Man” song right now. People badmouth American mass media, but I think they have helped slow the epidemic in this country.

Unfortunately, not every country has the infrastructure we have. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 75 percent of the world’s 42,000,000 AIDS sufferers. That’s 31,500,000 confined to one area. Clearly, that’s where a lot of the international AIDS resources need to go.

Education should be the first priority. I’m not saying that treatment should be downplayed, but I figure the more people know, the less likely they are to become infected. There is a potential to waste a lot of money through misguided and ineffective policies. People need to care and realize that it could happen to them.

A U.N. AIDS report states that the disease is contributing to the devastating effects of the famine in Africa. The report also said that women, desperate to make ends meet, are moving to urban centers and engaging in prostitution, contracting and spreading the disease. Contrary to what is going on in the rest of the world, 58 percent of those affected in Africa are women who acquired the disease through sex with men. There was an effort in America to provide prostitutes with condoms to stop the spread of AIDS. A similar effort in urban centers in these countries would at least be a good start.

As was (and to an extent is) the case in America, there are many misconceptions that must be overcome. South African President Thabo Mbeki has publicly doubted the link between HIV and AIDS. Having such a prominent, high-ranking official make boneheaded comments like that illustrates the extent of the problem.

The lack of infrastructure in many of these countries is a large problem. This makes treatment difficult. Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier, the scientists who discovered how AIDS is transmitted, have called on scientists and clinicians in developed countries to help contribute to infrastructures in the countries hit hardest by the disease. True, it is up to the developed countries. But it cannot be political. I don’t know how this could be done, but I guarantee that if governments are involved, it will be mismanaged and ineffective.

My only real proposal for education and prevention is that it has to be grass roots. Make people listen. Get through to the illiterate population because pamphlets and printed educational materials won’t do them any good. Give people condoms, demonstrate how to use them, and explain why they need to use them. In America, most people wouldn’t think of having sex without a condom, and we need to foster this kind of cautiousness elsewhere.

According to Amnesty International, Another large obstacle is the fact that people are not receiving treatment because they are on the outskirts of society and cannot afford treatmen.t We made the mistake of not acting initially here because AIDS was considered a “fringe” disease. Find out what GRID is if you don’t believe me.

By all accounts, the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa will get worse before it gets better. The United Nations estimates that the number of cases in this region will continue to rise until the end of the decade. There are already too many. AIDS is a disease that is difficult to treat yet easy to prevent, and it’s time we make other countries aware of it.

Chris Ricketts is a junior majoring in