Mon. Aug 15th, 2022

The West Chester University Office of Social Equity kicked off its fall lecture series last Wednesday with a presentation on the ever-growing problem of diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa.Dr. Fred Gage, WCU vice president of information systems, delivered the lecture as a means to illustrate the extent to which selected diseases have already affected Sub-Saharan Africa as well as discuss how they will impact its future populations.

Gage began the lecture talking about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS cases in Africa and then moved on to discuss other diseases plaguing the continent such as tuberculosis, malaria and obstetric fistula.

When it came to the human impact that the AIDS virus has had in Africa, Gage was not brief in illustrating its effect on women and children. He showed viewers how African women ages 16 to 24 are now between two to six times more likely to develop AIDS and that the disease has had a profound effect on their life expectancy as well as their ability to conceive. However, Gage said the issue of AIDS is still approached with much “stigma” in Africa as some studies show 90 percent of HIV afflicted women were infected by their husbands.

He also highlighted the fact that recently Jacob Zuma, the deputy president of South Africa was acquitted of raping an HIV positive woman, enraged AIDS activists by saying that he didn’t use a condom but took a shower afterwards.

African children have also become victims of AIDS according to Gage as they account for one in every six related deaths worldwide. He also added that other children have lost either one or both of their parents to the disease.

In addition to the human impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa, Gage also discussed how the virus has caused over crowding in hospitals, adversely affected the environment, radically changed the population structure as well as put pressure on governmental policy.

Gage not only spoke about the dramatic effect AIDS has had on the country, but showed how it has facilitated the spread of other diseases such as multi drug-resistant tuberculosis and malaria, which “claims the life of an African child every 30 seconds.”

One final disease that Gage identified in his presentation is obstetric fistula, a condition in which pregnant women lose their bowel continence following a prolonged or obstructed labor due to inadequate medical facilities. Women with this disease lose their children 95 percent of the time and are afterward subjected to “a life of shame and isolation.”

Gage showed his viewers a short film entitled “A Walk to Beautiful” which focuses on women who have developed and are living with obstetric fistula. In the film, one of them told the camera, “I would rather have my arm cut off than live with this disease.”

Gage also dedicated portions of his presentation to applaud the efforts being made in several African countries to curb these diseases through medical treatments and increased awareness. Mosquito nets and sprays are being used to stop the spread of malaria and increased care for pregnant women is also being undertaken through administering anti-drugs for HIV/AIDS. Finally, certain centers which can administer surgery to women with fistula are starting to spring up in countries like Nigeria and Ethiopia, where the disease is most rampant.

While Gage complimented private U.S patrons and celebrities for their work in fighting disease in Africa, he made it a point during a question-answer period that the involvement of the United States government is “minimal” at best.

“The United States has not been strong in funding Africa in particular. We have seen peaks and valleys but right now we have so many resources tied up in the Middle East and the pursuit of oil, that some of these things are given short shrift.” he said.

Gage concluded his presentation with one critical point: that these diseases are not just the problem of Africa but a problem for the world.

“It [our current course of action] may very well come back to haunt us,” he added, “because the rise of some of these infectious diseases, like extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis, may be in another part of the world now but it’s only a question of time before we see it on our shores.” he stated.

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