Professors talk on AIDS epidemic in South Africa

Cynthia Gomez

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Approximately 22.5 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2007, the website for HIV InSite indicates. About 5.5 million people are HIV-positive and about 380,000 people are expected to die this year in South Africa because of AIDS.

In order to inform students about people living with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, Gerald M. Oppenheimer and Ronald Bayer, professors and authors, gave a lecture on March 13 in the Whitsett Room. The lecture touched on their recent book, “Shattered Dreams? An Oral History of the South African AIDS Epidemic.”

Based on stories told by 86 doctors and nurses about their experiences treating people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, the book covers a period from 1982 to 2005, with the first AIDS epidemic of South Africa.

“We believe it’s important to bring to students across the country the story of what’s happening in South Africa with regard to the AIDS epidemic because it is a catastrophic human experience,” Bayer said. “Many, many, many children, parents, men, and women (are) dying and we think that by telling the story of what’s going on in South Africa we could awaken consciousness.”

“It’s yesterday’s story for many people. It’s on the back page. No one thinks about it anymore and we want to make sure we?move people’s attention to the experiences of a country like South Africa, where people, nurses and doctors are struggling to save the lives of their patients,” Bayer said.

Oppenheimer said the International AIDS Conference was held in Durban, South Africa in 2000, and it was the first time there was such a conference in Africa or in any of the developing countries.

“It was also important because it revealed the depths of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, Sub-Sahara Africa and particularly in South Africa, where at that point, approximately 5.5 million who were reported to be HIV-positive,” Oppenheimer said.

Oppenheimer said he and Bayer were “stunned” by the number of people suffering in South Africa.

“We decided that we had to do something,” Oppenheimer said. “We did what we could do, which was to do another oral history of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa, this time including nurses as well as doctors and also political activists.” Oppenheimer said he and Bayer went to major cities, towns, mining towns and rural villages and interviewed doctors of all specializations and nurses.

One focus of the book is on South Africa children living with HIV/AIDS.

Bayer told a story of a pediatrician who treated children living with HIV/AIDS in a hospital in Durban. The pediatrician recalled a little girl who said she was healed, and as a symbol of her recovery, she put a red dot in the middle of her forehead. The girl later died of AIDS.

‘”I couldn’t deal with the fact that this child died of AIDS and she died alone,'” Bayer said, reading from the pediatrician’s story. The pediatrician said the girl’s parents, whom she did not know had AIDS, infected her.

The pediatrician was touched by the girl’s death.

“‘All those needles?the pain, injecting her repeatedly just for nothing at the end of the day,'” Bayer said reading from the pediatrician’s story. “‘I don’t really want to get close to any other patient and watch them die.'”

Oppenheimer told a story of a pediatrician who spoke about an infant who looked “‘very tiny'” for her age at 15 months. The infant was transferred from a private institution because her health insurance had ‘run out.'” The pediatrician said the infant needed oxygen, had severe pneumonia, and showed signs of AIDS dementia, adding that the infant’s prognosis was “‘not very good.'”

“‘Over the next few days, she was actually getting worse and worse,'” Oppenheimer said while reading from the pediatrician’s story. ‘”Our policy is always to allow the parents time to be prepared for the inevitable.”‘ The pediatrician talked to the infant’s mother and told her that her daughter was not doing well. The infant soon died.

“‘It was a very different moment for us doctors, very difficult,'” Oppenheimer said, reading from the pediatrician story. “I don’t think medical school has prepared us for dealing with death.”‘

Oppenheimer said the pediatrician wrote that children are not meant to die before their parents.

‘”There are no words that can tell the parents how I feel and console them. As a profession, doctors don’t know where to turn for help. We really don’t, “Oppenheimer said while reading the pediatrician’s story.

Oppenheimer discussed the situation in South Africa, where the Thabo Mbeki government has been criticized for allowing deaths to continue and denies antiretroviral drugs to people infected with HIV/AIDS.

Oppenheimer said The Mail ‘ Guardian newspaper, one of South Africa’s leading newspapers, in 2004 published, “‘Here we are two months into 2004. We’re singing the same tune we have since 1999. Our government exercises absolutely no leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS.'”

Oppenheimer said the International AIDS Conference was held in 2006 in Toronto, Canada, where 30,000 people from the South Africa group showed “no signs” of providing antiretroviral drugs to the people of South Africa who are infected with HIV/AIDS.