While no one is exactly sure of how, where or when HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) first originated, today it is one of the most infamous and closely studied illnesses in the world. Today it is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and is the worst in southern Africa. In Namibia anthropologist Dr. Debie LeBeau Spence is studying socio-structural and cultural factors that influence HIV infection. Some of the factors she has identified so far include gender inequality, migration and poverty. Her research “examines key areas of HIV vulnerability and risk taking versus areas for HIV help seeking behavior through the cognitive perception of migrants, mobile and associated population”. The well known international monetary efforts, the campaigns to stop the spread of AIDS in Africa that are cooperation between different governments may not be the sole solution to this problem. Just as we have seen Paul Farmer’s success with tuberculosis in Haiti, anthropologists’ efforts with HIV and AIDS in Africa may determine whether treatments are trusted, accepted and effective. For instance, Dr LeBeau Spence has pin pointed that women are at a higher risk for developing the illness because their lower social status makes them unable to take advantage of risk-lowering measures. She says that things that would improve this aspect could be women’s control over their own personal economics, control over their sexuality and decreasing gender based violence like domestic violence and rape. This could be gone about by, she says, government campaigns for greater gender equality. Her research also focuses on migrants involved in the disease. She notes that the fragmented nature of migrants, in their social, familial, and sexual lives put them at higher risk for infection. Since they do not experience social pressure to participate in contraceptives and sexual protection, they are a “significant contributing factor to the progressive spread of the disease”.
“HIV and AIDS in Africa: HIV and AIDS Research and Publications by Dr. Debie LeBeau Spence,” last modified October 12, 2009. http://www.developmentafrica.com/AIDS.html