THE AIDS THREAT – 400,000 CASES

The first reported case of AIDS in Tanzania (from Kagera Region) was as recently as 1983. But, according to a Professor in the University of Dar es Salaam, there are now estimated to be 400,000 people infected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which can lead to AIDS.

The male to female ratio is approximately 1:1 reflecting the dominance in Tanzania of heterosexual transmission: Distribution by age shows peak prevalence for women in the age groups 15 to 25 whereas the majority of infected males are in the age group 25 to 35.

The spread of HIV follows the major communication routes with dramatic differences in the geographical distribution. In the Kagera Region with 1.3 million inhabitants some 11.9% of the adults were HIV positive in 1987. The rate was as high as 32% in Bukoba town. The extent of the catastrophe in the town is illustrated by the fact that in the age groups 25-34, some 41% were affected and in babies below one year in age 23% were HIV positive. (An account of what was described as the ‘AIDS Horror’ at Kanyiga village, 25 miles from Bukoba, was given in Bulletin No 31).

In Moshi the average infection rate was 7% in 1987 but no positive cases were detected outside the city. The figure for Dar es Salaam was about 6%

The true prevalence and the speed of dissemination in most of the country is not known but one source estimated that the affected population is now doubling every six to eight months. According to the World Health Organisation, for every reported case, there are in the population 50-100 infected cases. According to some health experts there could be as many as one to two million people affected by the end of this year. Most of these people will be subject to emotional stress and a larger number of relatives and friends will also need assistance in dealing with the disease . “We are talking about anywhere between five and ten million people needing counselling if testing instruments were available for all” said Dr. G. P. Kilonzo, Head of the Psychiatric Unit at Muhimbili Medical Centre. He said that the emotional reaction of individuals to HIV infection and the neurological and psychiatric consequences of the disease can have a far reaching impact unless emotional support is given. Cases of suicide, stigma, anger, depression and family turmoil are issues that need to be dealt with through counselling he said.

Dr Gabriel Lwihula is worried about the orphan problem and how Tanzania will be able to cope with the orphan children and the aged whose survival must depend on support from persons dying of AIDS. A National Aids Task Force was set up in 1985 and this led the way to the National AIDS Control Programme which the government launched in mid 1988. Emphasis is being placed on bringing about behavioural change. Most people are said to now prefer what is known as ‘Zero grazing’ in reference to sticking to a single partner. Many jokingly refer to what are called ‘UWT (the Tanzanian Womens’ Organisation) marriages’. Others refer to Chinua Achebe’s novel ‘One man; one wife’.

At a seminar in Arusha in July 1989 Dr W.M. Nkya of the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre said that transmission of AIDS was complicated by the existence of ‘infected pools of people and mobile transmitters’. He explained that prostitutes and barmaids were likely to be in the infected pool while young business men, truck drivers and privileged civil servants were likely to be among the transmitters.

At the same seminar the Tanga Regional Cultural Officer, Mr V. Mkodo said that a number of men were opting for schoolgirls to ‘quench their sexual thirst ‘as they were considered to be safe from the disease. It was also suggested at the seminar that it would be a great help if the government issued a directive on circumcision of men as uncircumcised men were thought to be at greater risk.

On Peasants Day in July this year the Association of Tanzania Family Planning had what was described as a ‘field day’ when it sold 11,000 condoms to visitors to the 13th Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair. Condoms, at Shs 5/- each, were said to have been selling like hot cakes as preventive measures against AIDS. (From SHIHATA, the Daily News and the book reviewed on page 31).

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