South Africa's inability to honestly confront AIDS shows the dangers of America's COVID-19 denialism

A South African woman mourning her husband, who died of AIDS, covers herself up during the funeral according to custom. Per-Anders Pettersson via Getty Images
At a time when the US is experiencing one of the worst COVID-19 infection rates among rich nations, Americans could learn some cautious lessons from South Africa, the nation that suffered from its many stumbling blocks and stumbling blocks during the HIV / AIDS epidemic Failure has fared worst of its various governments.
Some South African authors, such as Phaswane Mpe and Sindiwe Magona, whose work I study and teach, have written about the tragic impact of a country steeped in denial of the virus, the effects of which can still be felt today.
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In 2019, 7.7 million South Africans were HIV positive and the prevalence of HIV among adults aged 15 to 49 was a staggering 20%. A multi-year study tells an even more sobering story: Between 1997 and 2010, 2.8 million South Africans died of HIV / AIDS causes - an average of over 200,000 deaths per year.
These numbers were once incomprehensible to Americans - until 2020, when the US lost over 300,000 people to the coronavirus. The truth about what can happen without a carefully coordinated public health plan became painfully clear.
Of course, HIV and COVID-19 are two very different viruses. HIV is transmitted and stigmatized through the exchange of body fluids. COVID-19 is carried by tiny droplets in a person's breath and is not tied to any sense of shame.
On the other hand, COVID spreads much more easily because it is transmitted through chance contact rather than intimate exchange. When it comes to AIDS, the most important thing to consider is who to sleep with. With COVID-19, you need to worry about not being further than three feet from anyone - lover, family member, neighbor, or stranger.
Despite these differences between viruses, one factor has tragically played its part: neglect and misinformation at the highest levels of government.
Mistake from above
When it came to dealing with the AIDS crisis, South Africa soon became known for the ineptitude of its leaders.
The virus first appeared in South Africa in 1982, 12 years before apartheid was abolished. At that time, the government, under the leadership of Prime Minister P.W. Botha was consumed with unrest at home. Very little attention was paid to a condition that initially appeared to affect marginalized groups: gay men, prostitutes, drug users, and eventually the general black population.
In 1994 Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first leader of the new independent, multiracial democracy. His government took the virus more seriously; For example, the country's new constitution included protective measures against AIDS discrimination. However, the government proved ill-prepared to deal with an epidemic of this magnitude when it was just beginning to put in place a coherent state infrastructure. As a result, the adult HIV infection rate, which was 8% when he took office, rose to 20% by the end of his five-year term.
The person rightly most to blame for the AIDS debacle in South Africa is Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela in 1999 and held office until 2008. to claim that AIDS is part of a neo-colonial conspiracy to continue to exploit Africa and to oppress its people.
The story goes on

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