When did AIDS disappear from Tanzanian radar?
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Tony Zakaria
Typography

HAVE you noticed these days not much is seen on TV, heard on radio or talked about in public regarding the AIDS epidemic? Maybe it is no longer a major economic and social problem but it has certainly disappeared from the radar.

And you know every time you hear of a plane that disappeared from the radar, the likelihood for survival of passengers and crew is scant. So where did our AIDS jumbo jet fly to?

In my time no day passed by without AIDS being mentioned on radio and no week elapsed without a number of news articles being published in the few newspapers that existed then, some two decades or so ago.

Now there are more radio stations in Dar es Salaam than can fit on my car radio with 18 preset stations. And we get to watch at least 10 local TV stations. What would it take for the radio and TV stations to make HIV and AIDS issues common features in their programmes?

Some of our local radio and TV stations play music of different genre, from different countries and continents be it Brazilian samba, Jamaican reggae, American pop and hip hop to African rhumba. Clearly broadcasting stations have airtime, sponsored or otherwise.

Maybe it is about Deutsch marks and dollars. I don’t know how our neighbours are faring in keeping AIDS on their national agendas. Perhaps they have also gone silent. But I know AIDS has not gone away.

The three East African countries have a combined total of about 4.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS, 100,000 AIDS-related deaths and some 215,000 new HIV infections in 2016. Does this sound like the problem is gone away? Wapi?

Maybe Ukimwi has become as common as flu so nobody is bothered by its presence. Which family has not been affected in the last thirty years? There may be a few brand new families whose individuals have not known someone who died from AIDS or been to hospital to visit a sufferer or been to a funeral of a victim.

Tanzania with an estimated 50 million population has the lowest adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate among the large East African countries at 4.7%, followed by Kenya (population 45 million) at 5.9% and Uganda being higher at 7.1 percent.

I am not sure if this has any bearing on those looking for life mates in the EAC common market but let all Tanzanians beware. Shop carefully and don’t buy any goods unless they have been tested by experts. With 38 million population, Uganda has plenty of potential life partners in the EA community. Maybe you want to go down south for shapely and athletic-looking lifemate furniture.

South Africa with about 55 million people boasts of an alarmingly high adult HIV prevalence of 19.2%, leading to some 380,000 new infections annually and an estimated 180,000 AIDS related deaths in 2015.

How many people are living with HIV in South Africa? About seven million. Swaziland has a smaller population of about 1.25 million but things are rather bleak there. HIV prevalence is the highest ever at 28.8%. Almost one-fifth of the population is living with HIV in the kingdom.

I would like to see the kind of educational programmes Swaziland may be airing on TV and radio. I am thinking Tanzania would have declared a national emergency if we had such a rate. I regularly watch SABC on satellite but I see a lot of their parliament and politics, riots and school boycotts, and now a resurgence of xenophobia.

Perhaps it is the visiting migrant Africans bringing AIDS to their doorstep and taking away their valuable jobs? Seven million people living with HIV must be exacting a huge toll on the public and private health services.

Like here in Tanzania, HIV and AIDS issues are in neutral gear. Maybe government and non-government agencies are doing quite a bit but quietly. Like the three million people who are receiving anti-AIDS drugs in the country of Mandela. Here is the thing.

AIDS does not fall from orange trees but is freely given between partners playing the game of love. In South Africa, sex workers have the highest infection rates ranging from 40 to 88% compared to 14% for women in their general population.

The nation has plans of action targeting sex workers but is it working? I told you, sex whether free or for hire is the main source of infection. If you play, you will pay but later rather than sooner. And it does not matter whether you are rich or poor, young or old. Maybe age does matter.

In Kenya a large proportion of new infections occurs in the 15- 24 year age group. This may be the case in many African countries. The young, restless and reckless. Young women want to live the life now. The latest fashions in nice clothes, accessories, smartphones and spending money.

How much are our daughters willing to give to get the life they think they should be having? In Tanzania women aged 23-24 years had double the HIV rate as boys of same age. Paradoxically, women aged 45-49 years had a HIV rate of 10%, way above tha national average.

Sugar mummy syndrome or gender inequality? After three dozen years or more of AIDS control experience we should have all the answers by now of what works and what does not. But we know behaviour change is the key to tackling new infections and manage existing ones.

There is no better medicine for treating risky behaviour than education and mobilisation. The most effective tool for selling soft drinks is advertising, be it on audio, visual and print media.

Those who own and control media in Tanzania have a social responsibility to create and advertise AIDS prevention strategies and activities. It is the least they can do to ensure their viewers and readers do not di but survive to become subscribers and captive audiences. Let us break the silence.

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