18 May 2008


I had a conversation with a mechanic while he was working on the car. We were unable to communicate in English, so I spoke through an interpreter. (I'm paraphrasing the conversation).

Mechanic: So what do you do when people are not running into your car?
Dr Mosi: Well, I'm a scientist, I do research into HIV.

Mechanic: So this HIV, will there ever be a cure?
Dr Mosi: Probably not. There's no cure for any illness caused by a virus, not even the common cold. You can't kill something that is not alive. Bacteria are alive, so antibiotics can kill them. But I'm hoping that there will be a vaccine soon. That's how smallpox was eradicated and polio is not a huge problem any more.

Mechanic: I think I have HIV
Dr Mosi: Did you go for a test? You know testing is free and anonymous. So is the counselling and treatment.

Mechanic: You know, people here are very poor. Women... they need to eat... so they ask for 20-pin [20,000 Kwacha, about US$5.00]. And you can't give them 20-pin for nothing isn't it?
Dr Mosi: But do you at least use protection?

Mech: No.. i'm paying 20-pin, there's no way.
Dr Mosi: But that is the same as taking a loaded gun, putting it to your forehead and shooting. Actually it's worse than that, it's like taking the gun, shooting the people who are closest to you, and then killing yourself. because your wife, your girlfriend, will get it... and if your kids don't get it they will be on the streets when you pass away. No home, no chance of education, employment. I don't agree with your approach there. And it's an entirely preventable disease.

Interpreter: But is there any advantage to getting treatment?
Dr Mosi: Yes... you can live for a long time... in that time you can ensure your kids get an education, maybe get better jobs. Also, if you're on medication the chances to transmit the virus are far less, so you're helping other people out too. And it's free - your cost is just transport to get to the clinics. That 20-pin is more than enough for that. I would tell everyone to get tested at the very least, then at least you know... and can protect yourself and the ones you love. Also... about 1 in 6 people in this country is HIV positive... and the rate of infections has not gone down. So you're doing your country a great favour by limiting the spread. You guys went to the Zambia-Swaziland game, right? I'm assuming that you were supporting Zambia. How about supporting your country by not killing your near and dear ones? It'll be a great act of patriotism.

It's really sad that even after so many years of HIV prevention messages it doesn't seem to have gotten to the target audience. Maybe that's why the rate of new infections is still high. For a disease that's entirely preventable... I don't know why it's not on everybody's lips. Maybe if you have to worry about what you're eating the next meal it's not so much on your mind, but the guy I spoke to had a regular job and didn't have to worry about that. He even had more than needed to spend on 'extra-curricular' entertainment - sports, drinks, and prostitution. So... maybe it's not poverty, it's just education.

[The photo is by me, entitled "Who knows the way out?", thought it was appropriate.]