HIV/AIDS: Numbers don’t sugar coat the facts.
Note: If you haven’t seen my previous blog post, I’m running a half marathon next month to help raise money for a Peace Corps Volunteer started organization Kgwale le Mollo to help send two rural South African kids to one of the best high schools in South Africa. Please consider helping me with a donation! Thanks.
I’ve always been fascinated by the country comparison pages on the CIA Factbook. So much so that I actually carried an offline version of all the information with me into the Peace Corps. It’s amazing the type of patterns and astounding facts you can find in that data
Earlier this week a 10th grader had come over to my house for physics help and we started talking about the world map on my wall. He mentioned how much bigger the United States was than South Africa which immediately made me think of the Area Comparison on the CIA Factbook. I brought it up and showed him and he was just as amazed as me to think that there was an entire country 2 sq km with a population greater than 30,000 or a country with less than 50 people living in it. Looking through the list of country comparisons I saw the HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate and figured it be a good thing for him to see where South Africa fell on this list. He stared at the list for a good 10 to 20 seconds in complete shock mouth almost open. When I looked at the list again I tried looking from the perspective of a 16 year old South African and had almost the same reaction.
If you didn’t click the link to the list, do it now.
Here’s what I noticed after studding the list:
- The top 9 countries are all the southern most countries of continental Africa.
- All of these countries have an HIV rate over 10% while the 10th country (Kenya) is at 6.7%. A percentage gap that large occurs no where else in the table.
- You have to go all the way down to number 23 to get off the continent of Africa.
- Less than 1000 miles off the coast of South Africa (#4 at 18.1%) is Madagascare (#116 at 0.1%)
- There’s no trend between GDP, war and conflict, or many other measurable statistics. Somalia is at 0.5%.
To help visualize this data I made a color coded map from a blank SVG map of Africa on Wikipeida and the effect is even more obvious. In the graph, the more red a country is the higher the percentage of HIV/AIDS in the country, when multiple countries through out the world have the same percentage the ranking is done alphabetically.
As the true impact of these numbers slowly materialized in front of the young man he asked me the next obvious question: Why? Truth be told I didn’t really know how to respond to him and would appreciate any thoughts from others more knowledgeable on this subject. Looking at the data and the astounding fact that the most affected countries are all grouped together in southern Africa I figure there has to be some explanation for it. I fumbled through an answer about differences in culture and the like, which in no way satisfied him.
After he left I went to the place that knows all answers and googled for information on the subject. As you can imagine this is a pretty controversial issue with people suggesting things that I’d never heard before and seem pretty preposterous such as the majority of HIV cases are actually spread through immunization needles (does nothing to explain this trend) to the prevalence of concurrent sexual partners in some African cultures (goes a long way to explain the trend I feel). And making the map from the CIA Factbook data made me remember a Hans Rosling TED Lecture I watched about a year ago. I just rewatched it and highly recommend it, it will be the most enlighting 10min of your day. If you’re a PCV in South Africa I’ll give it to you next time I see you, that lecture is a must watch for every volunteer in the country in my opinion.
This entry was posted on Saturday, March 13th, 2010 at 6:14 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.