SATURDAY, Aug. 4 (HealthScoutNews)
-- Cultural and religious influences are two of the major
contributing factors to southern Africa's AIDS and HIV crisis, a
Michigan State University expert concludes.
Over the past year,
Jon Lacey traveled to Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and the island
nation of Mauritius, where he trained health care providers, clergy
and others to care for AIDS patients.
Lacey says he found
that many, but not all, branches of the Christian, Muslim and
traditional African religions in the countries have trouble
grappling with the epidemic.
religious groups that oppose the use of condoms and believe in
abstinence only. There are folks who believe that talking about
prevention methods like safe sex or the use of latex condoms and
other barriers - the mere talk . . . encourages sexual activity,''
says Lacey, who is director of the university's AIDS Education and
religious communities refuse to discuss AIDS because they view it as
a homosexual disease. In other religious groups, talking about AIDS
prevention can be uncomfortable because it deals with sexuality,
substance abuse and death.
''There are many
people in Africa in religious communities across the board who
simply don't want to talk about these issues and believe if their
members are faithful to their faith, that they'll have no need for
AIDS prevention because they won't be engaging in behaviors that put
them at risk,'' Lacey says.
''So I think
religious feeling, religious doctrine, religious practices really
have not adapted well to full discussion of the real threats that
are there with HIV/AIDS," he adds.
Lacey stresses that
such religious attitudes aren't unique to Africa. Religious biases
are also an obstacle in the struggle against HIV/AIDS in the United
But in Africa there
are other barriers, particularly involving cultural sensitivities,
Lacey says. The continent is a patchwork of cultural and social
differences and that means anti-AIDS messages have to be culturally
specific and sensitive.
"A particular group
of people simply does not talk about sex," he says by way of
example. And that makes sexual behavior or risk the No. 1 route of
transmission of HIV/AIDS in Africa, "a very difficult kind of thing
to deal with," he adds.
Language is another
stumbling block. As an example, Lacey relates his efforts to discuss
HIV/AIDS with the San people of the Kalahari Desert.
''Just trying to
have someone translate the basic information about AIDS transmission
was a very difficult thing to do because the words which we were
trying to use, when translated into their language, were words of
embarrassment and shame and stigma,'' he says.
Also a factor: What
may work in one country can become a joke in another country.
Lacey cites a
successful poster campaign in Uganda that played on the country's
agricultural heritage. It featured cattle images and urged people to
stay in their own pasture. But the poster and its message failed in
Botswana, a country in which cattle are free to roam and where
cattle ownership is often communal.
The head of the
HIV/AIDS Division of the U.S. Agency for International Development
agrees with Lacey's observations, but thinks the message is finally
Dr. Paul De Lay says
many of the religious groups that have been caring for and
supporting AIDS patients and their families are finally recognizing
they have to take a lead in preaching prevention practices.
"The response of
religion to this epidemic has evolved dramatically in the last five
years," De Lay says.
Some of the groups,
such as fundamental Christians, that were strongly opposed to
condoms have had to reconsider their stand in the face of the
incredible devastation the epidemic has had on their congregations,
"We've seen a far
more pragmatic view about how people need to protect themselves," De
organization estimates that worldwide, 36.1 million people are
living with HIV/AIDS, and 22 million have died since the epidemic
began in the early 1980s.