On HIV, Serenity and Microfinance
By Isaac Iglesias, KF10, Mozambique
There is arguably a problem larger than poverty in southern Africa. Although not reaching the levels of neighbouring Swaziland, whose mid-term future as a country and people is uncertain, HIV is rife in Mozambique. One in six adults is estimated to carry antibodies for the disease, as are over 100,000 children.
I happen to belong to the oldest generation that has always been aware of the existence of HIV. Many readers probably remember a time when it did not exist. In the late ’80s, I saw intravenous drug use and HIV prevalence in my home town climb more quickly than unemployment. The ’90s came, and the disease struck all sectors of the population, becoming a real pandemic. The 2000s was the decade of information and I thought I had learnt everything I had to about the disease, including the feeling of dread before opening an envelope with the test results. For these reasons I naively, arrogantly thought I could come here and write a mature, objective and optimistic post about the HIV issue. I can tell you now I am unable to. Still, I want to share what I see with you lenders, in case anyone ever wondered.
The epidemic is ubiquitous in Mozambique. It is present in conversations, in the press, in ad campaigns. Most houses in Bela-Vista, one of the villages where Kiva operates, have huge red ribbons painted on their walls. Families are shattered by the disease. Entrepreneurs whose profiles you see on the site have lost children, parents, siblings to the illness. Some are HIV positive, some have developed AIDS already, some eventually will. The government lacks the infrastructure, medical personnel or medicines to tackle the problem.
“Tests and medicines are free in Mozambique, but I don’t think we get the good medicines. Patients seldom last more than a few months,” says one officer in my MFI. One borrower who works at an orphanage tells me, “We just got this baby a week ago. His mum was HIV positive and died in labour. We are waiting for the results of the test.” Their faces turn serious, their voices softer, their looks calmer. Mozambicans refer to the disease with dignity and courage, with admirable serenity. Culprits are not pointed out, complaints are not voiced. It seems much less of a taboo than for us in America or Europe. Maybe it is not serenity, maybe it is the resignation of a people who had no time to enjoy the end of a civil war before having to face a worse issue. Or maybe it is just the knowledge that awareness is the only efficient way for them to tackle the tragedy.
The money you lend on Kiva will not buy any Mozambican the sort of antiretrovirals you would get or are getting in America. Your help will not bring back relatives lost to AIDS. First and foremost, a cure to the disease must be found. In the meantime, families destroyed by HIV need to be able to raise themselves out of poverty. With the help of microcredits, many of those families are fighting their way out of poverty every day. In case you did not know this, I can assure you my MFI is proud of maintaining an absolute non-discrimination policy regarding HIV, both for employees and clients, and performs seminars and educational talks about the issue via its social development branch.
Unfortunately, there will be no point in microfinance if the disease keeps spreading at this level, and even more unfortunately there is no easy solution to the problem. Foreign aid and awareness are the only things these people have left.
Be aware that there is a problem larger than poverty in southern Africa — and that there are many ways in which you can help.