Do me a favor: Try to imagine you have just gotten off a long flight from North America to Africa and you are driving from the airport into the city of Kampala, the largest city and capital of Uganda. Now imagine a gigantic billboard centered around a well dressed, smiling African man, tie and all. Above his head are the words “Would you let this man be with your teenage daughter? “ Below him are the words “So why are you with his?” Now imagine these billboards plastered all over the city and imagine that they are supported by the Uganda Ministry of Health, Youth AIDS and various other reputable organizations. Welcome to Uganda, where a “Say No To Sugar Daddies” campaign is in full effect to stem the growing problem of societal norm that is significantly contributing to the prevalence of AIDS among young women in African: cross generational sex. A pattern of older men infected with HIV, offering to pay for teenage girls school fees and travel, and even cell phones and new clothes, in exchange for sex, has had a devastating effect on the spread of HIV among young women between the ages of 15 and 24. This phenomenon helps to explain why women in this age group are 4-5 times more likely than their male peers to be HIV-positive. If this is the first you are hearing about the Sugar Daddy dilemma, I hope it is as eye opening for you as it was for me.
I learned about this campaign in class and it served as a realization to me that there is a lot that I don’t know about what is contributing to the AIDS pandemic. Through some additional research, I learned that younger women are more susceptible to HIV than older women. I got to thinking, if the Sugar Daddy phenomenon is such a problem that an entire campaign is centered around it, and the number of infected teenage girls and young women so greatly outnumbers their male population of the same age, how many women are infected with HIV worldwide? The answer astounded me: almost half. That’s right, women, not gay men and intravenous drug users, make up 15.7 million of the total population of people living with HIV.
While the first of December marked World AIDS Day 2009, initiatives around the world raised awareness and funds for the HIV/AIDS crisis that we face as an international community. For many, this day served as a reminder that HIV/AIDS is still very much a problem and a major contributor to the global burden of disease, with over 33.4 million people living with AIDS and 2 million AIDS related deaths. (UNAIDS 2009 Epidemic Update). Hopefully, many of us, like myself, learned something on World AIDS Day 2009 and we will continue to educate ourselves and others throughout the year.
By: Erin C. Lieber