Virginity is to village as HIV/AIDS is to urban areas: Does the assumption still hold?

Posted: November 26, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Columnists, Commentary, Contributing Writers, Health, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

By Ayuen J. Awan, Juba, South Sudan

HIV-AIDS prevention: Thank to PrEP and PEP, you can protect yourself and love ones from HIV/AIDS

Thank to PrEP and PEP, you can protect yourself and love ones from HIV/AIDS

Monday, November 26, 2018 (PW) — I was in one of clinics in Juba couple of months ago for routine HIV test, something I do after every end of three months to establish my status on this incurable epidemic posing threat to human lives in the world today. It is advisable by medics to test after every three months because new HIV infections become detectable by lab tests after that period. In 2017, there were 36.9 million people living with HIV in the world, of which 180,000 were from South Sudan.

Although there is no data clearly comparing prevalence of HIV in villages and towns, it can be basically assumed that the disease is evenly distributed among populations. Regional data show greater disparity depending on geographical location and the nature of neighborhood. South Sudan population movement is very dynamic – producing a uniform mix of urban and rural people – living side-by-side, socializing, sexualizing and trading together throughout the year, in towns and villages.

Even without such data, it is still extensively held in South Sudan that town people are more exposed to HIV than the rural inhabitants who live in villages and informal settlements like cattle camps and fishing grounds. This is a notion more ingrained particularly in villagers which the urbanites also uphold leading to the rise in the demand for village girls over their civilized and educated counterparts in urban areas. Villagers strongly believe that AIDS is endemic to Urban settings just like urbanites believe that virgin girls are in the village.

In the clinic, the lab technician inserted the needle in my arm, drew sufficient blood and asked me to wait. Other patients went in for the same. As I was taking a seat in the waiting room and expectantly wait for clean result, the lab attendant raised his voice for me. John!  John! My heart jumped, and my eyes blacked out. I thought the quick call implied positive result (what auditors would describe as a disclaimer of report). I rushed in without paying attention to whoever was there watching me.

Yes Doctor, Am here. I retorted in faint hoasting voice smushing sweat droplets on my formerly pale face. “Please help translate for these people, they look of your descent,” he politely asked me though in a crushing manner. I relaxed my constricted nerves and regained my sight. Sitting disappointed were husband and wife who had come for HIV test – unfortunately, both read positive on the strip. They were pointing accusing finger at each other.

The doctor wanted to preliminarily learn as a matter of sincerity the one who first opened the door to the notorious disease by having extramarital affairs before carrying out his indisputable confirmatory tests.

The tall and well-formed young woman engulfed in embarrassment repetitively kept her head off to guise identity as I grill her by firing those questions. After responding to few queries, she would coil back into her ‘milaya’. Till I left I could not get her picture vividly in my mind, however, the husband who was already showing signs of HIV/AIDS, was free, relaxed and seemingly valiant to deal with the deep-seated disorder. From the sunken eyes, rough pale skin and distended jaw bone – summed up by crafty behavior, it could be construed that – he was an entry point.

I left them to be disapproved by further lab analysis that determine CD4 cells which tell who got infection first or the magnitude of damage that has been inflicted to the immune system by the virus. The more the CD4 cells, the shorter the time a person has lived with the virus in absence of Antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs. Medical professionals say, a climbing CD4 cell count indicates a recovering immune system.

This takes us back to the question of whether the cultural beliefs/assumptions still hold in our context today. This couple is innocently from village background or spend most of their time looking after their cattle in the jungles. How did HIV fluke into cattle camps which are thought to have virgin girls or faithful women? There are several channels available nowadays for HIV to move from town to village and vice versa. We under estimate the time we spend with villagers in towns or villages.

While travelling in South Sudan recently, I found a disgusting new culture unfolding. It was a wrestling Saturday and young girls had come out to cheer up their groups. After the games, none returned home. They decided to linger around in the makeshift shops of Darfurians – chilling and pretending to be serving customers throughout the day. You find each shop packed with a group of girls not less than five per shop. This, I believe, highly exposes them to risk of sexual activities with shop owners and definitely boosting HIV transmission in villages.

Foreigners (East Africans, Kawaja, Darfurians, Peacekeepers, aid workers, tourists) have since lived in South Sudan from the first transition period through independence up today, with some not going back to their own countries. Where do you think they change diet? Think of it. Deep in the village the only shop is operated by a Darfurian, a concrete structure is being built by a Ugandan and a Dobbi by a female foreigner.

In the past, village girls used to entertain men during night hours, but they would still get married virgins unlike today when things can even happen in an elevator during day. The culture is eroded, and the minds of today’s people are still stuck in the past. A graduate after completing studies heads to the village to look for a faithful future wife who should also be at the same time not engaged in sexual activities.

A rich businessman or a politician goes to the village or cattle camp to search for the faithful/virgin woman because they accept as true that urban girls are slay queens or diseased. Disentangle your heads from the misapprehension. A cow grazes where it is tethered.

Lately, there is a substantial surge in cases of adultery before local courts involving HIV/AIDS infections that have been handled. The victims reportedly demand reparations in addition to usual six cows because AIDS is viewed as death sentence or an open grave ready to devour the victim. This is so because sex is rampant in villages (but rather systematic in towns – one on one at least). The village women who were thought to be faithful are no longer faithful.

They fall for the wealthy town people as easily as possible and so do the girls acquired in the village. In addition, the urban rich who are positive have a perilous motive of distributing their disease to the vulnerable at their disposal to contract it and take back home and villagers who are less informed about protection issues are more susceptible.

Lucky enough, the laws of the Republic of South Sudan criminalize deliberate act or attempt to infect people with HIV either through sexual engagement or other channels that transmit the virus to the negatives. With emergence of this bug in the village, we should stop holding that incorruptible feeling that village women are faithful, village or murah girls are virgins. Unless they have confirmed and proved beyond reasonable doubt that villagers contract AIDS through channels other than sex that we may still cling onto the belief that village girls or women are safe.

Finally, I am here to offer a suggestion for managing new transmissions. For the marrieds: one caring partner should drag the other for test after every three months. If cheating is what makes a man happy, try to avoid it when the wife is expecting until she gives birth because you risk infecting the mother and unborn child.

For the new couples coming together or new relationships between boys and girls, prioritize testing before any romantic relationship enter advance stages. Foreign traders should be put under close watch. But condoms or abstinence is highly recommendable always. Humanitarian health partners should beef up campaigns in public gatherings like dance and wrestling places to help open eyes of all people on protection.

HIV/AIDS is everywhere, not necessarily confined to urban areas. Take to the village carrying the past in your mind at your own risk. Take care during the Christmas and New Year Festivities. Dive live, die early. Yah!

The author, Ayuen J. Awan, is the Chairman South Sudan Council of Radical Citizens (SS-CRC) and can be reached via his email: ayuenawan@yahoo.com

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

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