A disheartening view of AIDS in South Africa
“I will give you a picture that will sound a bit bleak,” Maria C. Marchetti-Mercer, Ph.D., told an audience at a lunch sponsored by the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS in September. Marchetti-Mercer, head of the department of psychology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, proceeded to paint a landscape of social and political turmoil and its relationship to the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic. With the end of apartheid in the 1990s, political violence gave way to criminal and domestic violence. The country has seen increasing incidents of “family murder,” the killing of all family members by a parent. Added to this mix is the impact of HIV/AIDS, which is estimated to have left at least 660,000 orphans and reduced families to poverty as breadwinners die or become incapacitated.
“Poverty doesn’t cause AIDS,” Marchetti-Mercer said. “But it does create a context where people are more vulnerable.”
People with HIV/AIDS are stigmatized, and society offers little in the way of social, economic or psychological support. As a result, Marchetti-Mercer said, poverty and crime will only increase. “I think we are moving toward another lost generation,” she said, referring to the orphans the epidemic has left. “This whole cycle of poverty and criminal and domestic violence will go on because of the impact of HIV/AIDS.”