Thursday, the Health Minister of South Africa announced that the number of people infected by AIDS, especially among young girls, is on the rise. The latest study shows that a shocking 28% of school-aged girls are currently infected with AIDS. The numbers among boys of the same age group is much lower, only 4%. This suggests that it is not the fault of young boys having unprotected sex, it is much older men. A disturbing trend has emerged, with young girls prostituting themselves to much older “sugar-daddies,” as health minister Motsoaledi called them. Not only is the age difference and prostituting of young girls alarming from a moral standpoint, it is also contributing to the spread of a debilitating virus.
Although South Africa has the strongest AIDS treatment program in the world, the demand (about 6 million of 50 million are infected) may prove too great to support. Since the financial crisis began in 2008, countries have focused more and more on stabilizing their own economies, and are contributing less to charitable causes. Notably, the United States, who provides around 500 million dollars in support each year is enduring budget cuts that will force them to cut that number in half by 2017. Thus far, the South African government has been able to provide services such as voluntary testing and awareness presentation, while encouraging condom distribution in schools. However, it remains unknown what programs will be cut when funds drop so significantly in the near future.
In spite of the difficult situation that they find themselves in, there is an encouraging side as well. Since these services are readily available, it appears that students are taking advantage of them. The low number of infected males suggests that they are using protection, which has been backed by a recent study showing that 80% of males in the area and age group are in fact using condoms on a regular basis.
The problem remains in the cultural numbness to the idea that older men sleeping with young girls is wrong. If that were to change, the AIDS crisis would be cut off at its source and save a generation of suffering. However, with rising costs and demand, the outlook is not encouraging. AIDS remains the most common cause of an early death in Africa, causing nearly 50% of all premature deaths. 20 Years ago, it was the 12th leading cause, but it has dramatically increased since then and continues to do so today. The organizations combating the virus will have to bolster their resolve and find a way through the financial crisis and the falling contributions that it represents, but there is still hope for those affected by the pandemic.