South Africa has the highest number of people estimated to be living with HIV and AIDS in any country. The HIV virus weakens the immune system putting a person at high risk for developing AIDS and the resulting opportunistic infections associated with this disease. Presently, the origin of HIV has been linked to chimpanzees. HIV is a descendant of a Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, and SIVcpz, the strain found in chimpanzees, is most closely related to HIV-1. Furthermore, it is hypothesized that SIVcpz was transferred to humans from consumption of chimps or from getting blood into the bloodstream through a hunters open wound. (HIV) Those individuals at higher levels of risk include sex workers, injecting drug users, men engaging in sexual relations with other men (and their respective sexual partners), as well as women and youths. Nonetheless, “individual choices and cultural norms encouraging ‘promiscuity’ cannot be exclusively blamed for spreading the epidemic.” (Ramin)
Dr. Debie LeBeau Spence is a medical anthropologist that examined “socio-structural factors that affects the spread of HIV and its impact on populations, HIV vulnerability among migrants, and link between HIV transmission and alcohol consumption and sexual relationships in Namibia and southern Africa.” She has identified inconsistent condom use, limited social pressure, poverty, migrancy and alcohol abuse as the contributing factors influencing the continual spread of HIV. (Spence)
Additionally, women are largely targeted for spreading HIV. Dr. Spence discerns that lower social status facilitates susceptibility to HIV infections so women are at greater risk for AIDS due to their lower socio-economic status. In addition to limiting control over finances and social status, women’s daily living responsibilities, exposure to gender inequality and discrimination and victimization such as rape and intimate partner violence deters women from taking advantage of preventive measures and weakening their defenselessness to this virus. (Spence)
Advocating abstinence/monogamy and promoting condom use are two strategies that have been employed by UNAIDS to address this pandemic. However, there are socio-cultural, economic, political and religious barriers that prevent condom use by the people living in sub-Saharan Africa. They believe using condoms places a restriction on intimacy, implicates oneself or their partners as carriers for HIV and that the sexual behavior they practice is stigmatized. (Ramin)
“HIV & AIDS in South Africa.” HIV and AIDS Information and Resources. <http://www.avert.org/hiv-aids-south-africa.htm>.
Ramin, Brodie. “Anthropology speaks to medicine: the case HIV/AIDS in Africa.” McGill Journal of Medicine: MJM 10.2 (2007): 127-132. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2323482/>.
Spence, Debie LeBeau, Dr. “HIV and AIDS Research and Publications by Dr. Debbie LeBeau Spence.” HIV and AIDS in Africa. (2009) <http://www.developmentafrica.com/AIDS.html>.