The Shower That Washed Anti-AIDS Efforts Down the Drain
Moyiga Nduru, Inter Press Service (IPS)
Tue Apr 11
AIDS activists have expressed concern about a remark by former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma that he minimised his risk of contracting the AIDS virus during unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman, by taking a shower afterwards.
Zuma also said he believed the chance of getting HIV from a woman was slim for a healthy man.
"It is nonsense [..]," said Nathan Geffen of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) [..]. "There are over two million men in South Africa who are HIV-positive. Most of them became HIV-positive through sex with women." [..]. "It (Zuma's comment) has caused enormous damage and confusion."
Zuma made the remarks while being cross-examined in court for allegedly raping a 31-year-old, HIV-positive AIDS activist in November last year. In South Africa, the adult HIV prevalence rate stands at about 25 percent, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
The fact that he served as chairman of the South African National AIDS Council and as patron of the country's Moral Regeneration Movement has also prompted some to view Zuma's remarks askance. More than five million people in South Africa are living with HIV and AIDS - more than in any other country. [..]
"This is an absurd statement. Scientifically, there is nothing like minimising the risks of HIV infection by simply washing it away. I think the idea (to shower) was to destroy the evidence," Dorothy Odhiambo of the Kenyan branch of the Network of African People Living with HIV and AIDS (NAP+) said in an interview with IPS. [..] "It (Zuma's statement) can set back the campaign to reduce South Africa's HIV infection rate by five years."
Added NAP+ coordinator Jefter Mxotshwa, ''Zuma is a political leader. He commands a lot of respect and influence, especially in rural areas. And his country, South Africa, is regarded as a leader in this region. As a result, people listen carefully to an influential person like Zuma in Southern Africa."
"For example, rapists will rape and rush to shower. They will say the (former) deputy president did so. Why not us?" he observed.
Figures provided by UNAIDS show that more than a third of all people infected with HIV at the end of 2005 were living in Southern Africa: approximately 15 million. [..]
The Zuma trial has also stirred debate in South Africa about rape -- always a hot-button issue in a country where, according to People Opposing Woman Abuse, a woman is raped every 26 seconds.
The Johannesburg-based civic group further asserts that only one in nine rapes is reported, with just seven percent of these cases ending in conviction.
Insisting that Zuma is innocent, hundreds of the former deputy president's supporters gather at the court in Johannesburg whenever he makes an appearance. Last week his lawyer received a hero's welcome as he led his team out of court.
But the demonstrators have angered the TAC, which called on Zuma to restrain his supporters from attempting "to intimidate the woman alleging rape by heckling, insulting and even throwing objects at her."
"To subject a complainant in a rape case to threats and intimidation demonstrates callous contempt for all women and for the constitutionally protected human rights that form the cornerstone of our hard won democracy," the group said, in a statement.
"In South Africa rape and sexual violence against women and girls are significant drivers of the HIV epidemic. Violence against women is a daily attack on the dignity and equality of women, and our social values."