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US Policy and Public Health — AIDS in Africa

Interview with Eugene Russell

Eugene Russell is an applied physicist from Nimba, Liberia. He is currently a teaching assistant in the University of Liberia's Physics Department and is a former Young Collaborator of the International Center for Theoretical Physics inTrieste, Italy.

What is the general perception of AIDS in Liberia?

The general perception of AIDS in Liberia can be gauged from two points which is based on the educational level. In rural areas, where the illiteracy rate is high people believe that AIDS does not exist and as such any method of controlling their sexual habit by the use of preventive methods are totally not welcome and some believe that it is the white man's way of reducing the population. In urban areas, there are many awareness programs that are not extended to the rural areas but the perceptions are mixed. Some believe that the use of condoms are highly seen to be tagging them as someone with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Some has coined it as being"America Ideas of Discouraging Sex."

Is there a difference in perceptions between generations?

The are different perceptions in that the generation of the 80s has much more control over their sexual habit as compared to the present generation. The present generation has been exploited by the Liberian civil war (1990-1997; 1998-now) which has turned teenagers into parents as early as 14-15 and much have had their first sexual contact by 10-12. With these economics problems most teenagers sell their bodies for survival and risking their lives to HIV/AIDS.

Are students aware of the developments and/or perceptions of AIDS in other regions of Africa?

There are a lots of student AIDS/HIV awareness groups in Liberia but these groups are mostly based in the capital Monrovia and the rural areas do not have such awareness. Students are only becoming to understand the effects of AIDS in this part of Africa through these awareness groups, this is as a result of poor funding.

Are there any unique cultural myths about AIDS in Liberia?

There is no cultural myth in Liberia as regards AIDS/HIV but what is common among youth is that something just got to kill you. So as a result they ignore condoms and go all out to enjoy life.

What is the percentage of people HIV+ or with AIDS in Liberia?

In 2001 it was reported that the affection rate was put at 8% of a total population of 2.5 million.

How are the people HIV+ or with AIDS treated in Liberia?

People living with AIDS/HIV in Liberia normally live in fear as they are afraid to be stigmatized by the public. But there are few that are treated by some aid agencies.

What programs are available to the public to promote awareness, specifically to the youth?

Symposiums, conferences, awareness-dramas, radio talk shows are available on some radio or television stations and bill boards.

Who do you believe is responsible for the education of AIDS in African countries?

The issues of AIDS education is no longer a government affair, it is a collective work to help galvanize the awareness against the fight of AIDS. The Liberian government is taking a much more moderate stand against the fight of AIDS/HIV as most of her resources are focused against the civic war in the north of the country. The government's own Nation AIDS Program has financial problems. It is NGOs that are really assisting in the fight of AIDS.

What is the Liberian government's stance on HIV/AIDS? Does the government deem it a medical emergency?

It is not yet a medical emergency.

Are there any regional collaborative efforts?

Yes, there is presently a collaboration between members of the Mano River Countries (MRU), Liberia , Guinea and Sierra Leone.

What role do you think the United Nations should play in fighting the AIDS pandemic in Africa?

I believe that it is now time that the UN allocate adequate resources to the fight against AIDS. Local AIDS groups in Africa should be assisted through the UN assistance by providing materials and logistics.

What do you think the role of developed/industrialized nations should be in fighting the AIDS pandemic in Africa?

I think the developed/industrialized nations should not accept that AIDS is no longer a regional problem, but rather a global problem that should be treated as we do against the war on terrorism.

Submitted by: Matt Berlin, Intern, Spring 2002