A friend has an Aids test. She has punctured her rubber-gloved hand whilst stitching up that of a colleague – a young, male colleague whose age (and lifestyle) means he could be HIV positive; among the 1.4 million Tanzanians (6.5% of the population) who are, 70% are between 25 and 49 years old.
She urges her patient to do likewise.
The doctor – in a bush clinic – really can’t see what all the fuss is about. My friend is pronounced HIV negative, as is her colleague. He had a test in December, he says, so did his wife. My friend doesn’t know how reassuring this information is. She decides, on the advice of another medic whom she is conducting regular and anxious telephone conversations with, to opt for antiretroviral treatment. She understands that there is an outside chance she may have exposed herself to the risk of contracting the infection, she can’t ignore that. The doctor laughs and says it’s not necessary: come back in six months and we’ll test again, he says, if you’re positive we can deal with it then.
Deal with it then.
When it’s too late.
Tanzania faces what is classified as a ‘mature, generalized HIV epidemic’; its predicament means it is included in a 15 focus countries plan which collectively represents 50% of HIV infections worldwide.
Nobody can afford to Deal with It Then.
I tell my friend I am sure that there is no need for concern, but I can understand her decision to take the drugs. I relate the tale of another friend who punctured her hand whilst administering a vaccination to a horse which subsequently proved rabid. She opted for a course of anti-rabies injections.
Just in case.
Not that my little tale offers much in the way of solace: I can see my friend briefly weighing up the odds: go mad and die or get sick and die? Either way she’s a loser.
Do Africa’s tragedies, I wonder, inure some of those who are in a position to do anything to alleviate them? Is the task of protecting a nation from HIV, malaria, hunger so overwhelming that some people talk the talk without having the energy to walking the walk? Do others carry placards, dole out business cards, enjoy the salary, drive new 4x4s, and wear halos and sanctimonious smiles just because they can profess to appearing to give a damn? Is the job just too big? Or is it made weightier by the paper pushing that attends it?
Am I too cynical?
Hat invents a game. An accident really. We are working on a project about malaria. Who isn’t apparently? Hat creates a simple board game. Couldn’t that be manipulated as a tool to educate about the disease, I wonder? Wouldn’t a game be an additional and useful weapon in a growing artillery against the world’s biggest killer, especially given it’d be played by the most vulnerable victims? A child dies of malaria every 30 seconds in Africa. Do the math: it’s a lot of kids. When they’re not succumbing, their mothers are.
So I write to malaria foundations everywhere. I write to Mr and Mrs Gates. I write to the Presidents anti-malaria initiative. I write to Amref. I write to Bono, Sir Bob, a veritable plethora of the usual celeb suspects. I write to lots of people. A few write back and say things like:
While we appreciate how important your request is regarding an educational game about malaria, unfortunately, it is not within the current giving priorities of the foundation. (It is. I checked. It said ‘education’ on the site)
What you and your daughter have created sounds like a novel idea. One of the key components of this project is Information, Education and Communication but I am afraid we cannot offer funding for this.
I’m not asking for money. I’m just asking that somebody take a look for God’s sake.
Some invite me to submit my proposal. And will they, I wonder, take it any further when I send them a child’s hand painted board and a few Coke bottle top counters? When I admit that I am just a mum. Not a doctor. Or a scientist. Or even a graduate. I doubt it.
Here’s a thing: as much as Africa needs HIV and malaria treatment, so she needs education. Without it, what point is the treatment, what point the prophylaxis? As my friend’s experience perfectly illustrates, knowledge is everything. Knowledge is empowering. How many Africans who come into contact with the threat of HIV have the education to understand the importance of Just in Case? How many have the confidence borne of understanding the risk to dismiss the Deal with it Then.
Not enough, that’s how many.
It’s not rocket science.
Nor is it rocket science that is required.