African professor discusses HIV myths

By Jessi Savino

In the past 20 years, the number of people infected with HIV worldwide rose from about 2.5 million to 40 million. Sixty-four percent of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa. However the rates may be declining. Kofi Awusabo-Asare shared these facts and talked about the myths, realities and challenges of HIV/AIDS in Africa with students Thursday in the Cabral Center.

“There have been recent declines [of the infection rate] in some countries, but it is uncertain whether this decline will level out or reverse,” said Awusabo-Asare, dean of social science at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.

Although the origins of the virus are still debated, he said it’s easy to see why the disease has become so wide-spread. Background factors – socio-cultural, political, economical and environmental – combine with scientific factors – genetics, biology and behavior – to create risk of exposure to HIV, and ultimately infection, he said.

Jessica Hofer, a nursing graduate student, said the most interesting part of Awusabo-Asare’s lecture was the discussion of the origins of the virus.

“Different things are said about where the disease came from that haven’t been proven and may not be true. It was interesting to hear a different perspective,” Hofer said.

One belief is that the origin of HIV passed from monkeys to humans, but Awusabo-Asare said that there was was no certain proof for any of the theories.

In Ghana, HIV is not listed by the government as one of the top 10 diseases afflicting the country, even though much of the population is infected, and a lack of knowledge adds to the spread of the disease, Awusabo-Asare said.

“In Western countries, such as the United States, you can give out pamphlets and people can read them,” he said. “In Africa, many people are illiterate.”

The lack of knowledge leads to misconceptions about the disease, like the idea that it is the result of a curse, or that one can be cured by having sex with a virgin, Awusabo-Asare said. This widespread infection has become a “threat to survival in some areas

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