Educating Africa about AIDS

Sand dunes on Jekyll Island, Georgia, Jan. 31, 2006
AP (file)
June 28, 2001
UN AIDS conference interview
Auxillia Lungu
AIDS Activist

Melissa McDermott - Let me ask you what a nineteen year-old like yourself - who should be concerned with dating, maybe a career, whatever, not worrying about something this serious…. What is it that makes you fight for this?

Auxillia Lungu - I’ve seen AIDS as a global crisis. And since I am within this globe I should be able to fight HIV and AIDS. I should be part of this. As a young person if I am included in the participation in the education of HIV and AIDS then I’ll be able to help other young people to be sensitized about HIV and AIDS. So they can change their ways, their behavior. If young people are include in this participation in these conferences in the fight against HIV and AIDS we will be able to get rid of all this. As you already know over 50% of the population worldwide is the young people and they are the most infected and affected by HIV. So they should get the participation.

M- Talking about population and infection. Is it 47% of women in Africa who are infected with HIV? Of the infected people 47% of them are women? Why is this?

A- Because women don’t get to be empowered with life’s cues. And they don’t get to say anything. They have been brought up in such a way that they don’t say anything and their husbands can do whatever they want to do. They can go out there and have sex. They can do anything and bring the disease to them. And they don’t say anything because they have been brought up that way. And as young people we get to learn that is what is real. We feel that is just the way it is. Even with our boyfriends we just get to listen to what they are saying and obey to what they are saying.

M- And that is something you are resigned to at a very young age. You are taught that you have to do whatever a man says and tells you to do no matter what your age. You’re talking about as young as ten years old?

A-Yes, exactly. Because you see right now young people are having sex not because maybe they haven’t gotten any information, but because they have been brought up that way. That a man can just make decisions and they can not say anything. Right now young people are being picked up by older men to have sex with them. But those older men can make the decision not to pick up those young girls. And maybe pick them up and take them to an institution where they can get the information, where they can prevent themselves from getting this disease.

M- Now, give me an example of the misinformation. What are some of the beliefs that some people of your country think about AIDS?

A- Well, some people feel that if you sleep with a girl who is a virgin then you don’t get to have HIV and AIDS because she is clean, straight from the farm, that’s what they say. And she doesn’t have HIV and AIDS. And the other myth is that if you have sex at a tender age yoget to grow long nails so they can keep you away from having sex. But if you find out that it doesn’t actually happen then you have sex and say they are lying.

M- To keep young people from having sex they say your nails will grow long and everyone will know that you’re having sex, like you’re wearing a scarlet letter. And then when they find out that it isn’t true they are saying well…

A- We won’t listen to what they are saying. Even when you come up with another suggestion that they shouldn’t do something like that. Even when it is right, correct, and true they say no. You lied to me the first time I can never listen to you.

M- And this comes from what it sounds like ancient myths from way back. It goes centuries back, these beliefs of today.

A- Exactly. Our grandparents grew up in a situation where culture and tradition dominated everything. Everything about tradition just passed. It was just right. But them you get for example some tradition that say you get to be married to your husband’s brother if your husband dies. You get to sleep with him, you get married to him. But what if that person is infected? Or if you are infected. Then you can infect him as well. Or you get infected. So if some of these traditional norms could be removed and people can forget about certain traditional norms then everything will be fine. Because they will not be misinformed. They will have the correct information.

M- Tell me Auxillia why we should care about this? The biggest thing that you probably know, that you have to fight, is apathy, especially in America. Why should Americans care? Why should a nineteen year old American care about helping your country?

A- If you are not infected with HIV and AIDS you are definitely affected. And if you are not part of the solution you are definitely part of the problem. So it’s either you go for the solution or you go for the problem. So everybody shouldn’t say that it’s in Zambia, it’s in America. Everybody should come together and fight HIV and AIDS. It’s everywhere. People may not come out, then it is hitting them, and it will come to them one day or another.

M- And by helping educate your culture you can help fight it globally. That is your point?

A- Exactly. By helping educate women, who are the center of all this. Actually it is a good thing that the United Nations has brought all these nations together so they can discuss how they can fight HIV and AIDS. It’s quite great. The United Nations organizations like UNIFEM are doing quite a great job because they get to empower young people and women to fight HIV and AIDS. And women need to be empowered because they have been the least people to get this information.