Saturday, June 25, 2011

By Following UNAIDS' Advice, Angola's HIV Epidemic Should Rocket

Following a recent posting about the risk of HIV and other blood borne diseases being spread in beauty salons and barber shops in the country of Georgia, here's another one about the same issue in Angola.

Even in Angolas capital, Luanda, many establishments lack sterilizing equipment. Beauty and hairdressing processes sometimes carry the risk of breaking the skin, especially where an area of skin is already damaged. If an infected area is involved, the risk of transmitting HIV is particularly high. Pus is a lot more risky than blood.

The articles don't mention additional risks from things like body piercing and tattooing, though these involve, by definition, breaking the skin. The Angola Aids Institute has pointed out that it is the establishment owners' responsibility to provide equipment and other materials. But it is the employees who need the training.

Anyhow, it's good to have the issue aired. Here in East Africa, a lot of hairdressing, cosmetic treatment, manicure and pedicure takes place on the street and in people's homes, often carried out by ill-equipped and untrained people. And people appear to be entirely unaware of the risks. They point to the small bottle of surgical spirit and cotton wool which they use, to a greater or lesser extent.

If those providing the treatment are unaware of the risks, their customers are even less aware. Worse still, official warnings from UNAIDS and the like about HIV are almost entirely about sexual risks, with non-sexual risks either diminshed, ignored or denied.

Angola borders some of the highest prevalence countries in the world but HIV prevalence there is not even as high as it is in East African countries. This is, even by UNAIDS, accepted as relating to the long civil war there. War is said to keep many parts of a country isolated.

What UNAIDS don't say is that war can also reduce the use of beauty and hairdressing establishments, even the provision of such services. And the august and over-financed institution is even less likely to point out that during long civil wars, over 25 years in Angola's case, health services tend to break down. These factors might significantly reduce the risk of non-sexual HIV transmission.

'Unsafe' sexual behavior was likely to have been far more common during the civil war than since. At least, it's unlikely to have been less common. It is only now that the civil war has ended that people, especially children, are receiving information about sex and HIV. Yet, ironically, it is now that the war has ended that HIV prevalence is rocketing.

Unfortunately, the usual suspects, political, religious, scientific, etc, are rushing to Angola to wag their collective fingers about safe sex. These groups are unlikely to have any impact on HIV transmission. So it's reassuring to hear news from Angola about non-sexual transmission. Let's hope they include unsafe medical practices in their warnings.

Almost all HIV transmission in Angola could have been prevented. There were people warning about non-sexual transmission in the early 2000s, even in the 1990s. But the HIV agenda has long been hijacked by those obsessed by sex, especially sex in Africa. If Angolans don't see the error of global HIV policy and go their own way, they will end up like all the other countries 'guided' by UNAIDS and their ilk.


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