AJN editor-in-chief emeritus Diana Mason has sent the following update from the International Council of Nurses (ICN) conference in Durban, South Africa:
Rosemary Bryant, chief nurse and midwifery officer of Australia and a member of the AJN international advisory board, was elected president of ICN. Her term will be four years.
Former president of Botswana, Festus G. Mogae, delivered the keynote address today to over 5,000 nurses. His support of the role of nurses in advancing health was evident in his appointment of a nurse, Shiela Tlou, as minister of health in 2004. “Although appointed in her own right,” he said, “her appointment was nevertheless recognition of nurses as leaders . . .
He noted that nurses play a particularly important role in caring for the 22 million Africans thought to be living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. His concern about the growth in the incidence and prevalence of HIV/AIDS has led him to form the Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, a group of former African presidents and other stakeholders. In a press briefing here, he said that there were three things that needed to be done to reduce the spread of HIV:
- communities must work to get rid of the stigma associated with AIDS that leads people to hide their illness
- people must know their HIV status: testing is paramount
- people must make behavioral changes that will stop the transmission, such as using condoms
Festus noted that while male circumcision was being used as a tool to lower the risk of acquiring HIV among men, he was concerned about young men who might get circumcised and then abandon other protection measures because they falsely believe that the circumcision provides them with sufficient protection.
This was all quite refreshing after the repeated denials from a former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, that HIV causes AIDS, plus a health minister who opposed antiretroviral medications. Such denialism has led to many more Africans acquiring HIV. Mogae noted that the spending on antiretroviral medications will be unsustainable as the number of those to be treated and their longevity increase. As well, he rightly noted that this is money that could be going into promoting the health of people so that they don’t become ill.
It is sometimes argued that Americans have turned their attention to the AIDs crisis in Africa while it continues to kill disproportionate numbers of black Americans. The Kaiser Family Foundation has recently announced a national media initiative, the Greater Than AIDS Campaign, to try to mobilize Americans to reduce the spread of HIV in the Black American community: “Today in the United States, more than half a million Black Americans are living with HIV/AIDS – far surpassing any other racial or ethnic group. From the outset, Blacks have been disproportionately affected by this disease – accounting for nearly half of all new HIV infections occuring every year in the U.S. while representing just 12 percent of the population.”
Our own story in the U.S. is often one of denial. But it may not just be around Black Americans. My own niece and nephews tell me that they have received very little education about HIV in their junior and high schools. While in Africa, I’ve learned that ostriches don’t put their head in the sands. Humans too often do.