The December 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

The Poor Will Perish Without Housing

We Accuse the US Government

The Works of Mercy: Thoughts on the Death of a Homeless Man

Greed Fuels Oakland Condo Conversion Law

Berkeley Food and Housing Project

Happy Holidays: Berkeley Targets the Homeless

Claire Burch Documents Life on the Streets

St. Joseph the Worker Needs Support

94 Years Old and Still Homeless

Judge Orders Fresno to Uphold U.S. Constitution

Stranded in the Season of Giving

Stories of Street Survival

A Criminal of Poverty

New Media Offensive for Iraq War

Poor Leonard's Almanack on Religion

AIDS & Poverty: A Deadly Link

Mysteries in Our Own Back Yard

December Poetry of the Streets


November 2006

October 2006

September 2006

July 2006

June 2006

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

AIDS and Poverty: The Deadly Link

by Nooshin Shabani

Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

If you were to play the word association game, what word would you pair AIDS with? Through experience, I have found the most popular response is Africa. Maybe because of the belief that AIDS first originated from Cameroon, or maybe because Bob Geldof's Live Aid benefit concert created awareness about the plight of Africa in the West, or it could be because Sub Saharan Africa is the most affected area in the world.

Yet, AIDS is not paired with Africa -- it's a worldwide problem.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the life-threatening disease which is a result of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a virus which infects and destroys cells in the immune system, leaving a person open to life-threatening infections and tumors. Someone can live with HIV for years without acquiring any symptoms; but after they have lived with this virus for a long time, it results in AIDS. Once they have reached this stage, they are left to count down their last days.

AIDS can act as the root and result of poverty -- killing children and their families while putting a strain on already limited medical supplies. The highly contagious disease is spread through blood, semen, dirty needles and breast milk. As governments strive to reduce the numbers stricken with AIDS, they first need to deal with the social issues which feed this epidemic.

Prostitution is a common problem. Some people living below the poverty line are forced to use sex as a way of survival so they can make enough money to feed their family. Sex tourism in countries like Thailand contributes to the increase of AIDS in other countries, as some tourists come abroad specifically to purchase cheap, unprotected sex with local people. Often, these customers are already in committed relationships; and so, in some cases, if they do catch HIV they go home and pass it on to their darling partner, who is generally unaware how this happened.

If their partner is pregnant, the new baby will most likely be born with HIV. Another innocent child is born to die. In some places, children are trafficked into brothels and out on the streets to be used as child prostitutes. In India, there are over 900,000 sex workers (UNICEF figures), and 30 percent of the workers are young children.

AIDS awareness is indeed very important, but how can the people use this knowledge when they don't know the basics of sex education?

Mike Willets, 67, a volunteer with the Global Volunteer Network (GVN), an organization in New Zealand which connects people to communities in need, discovered this on his placement in Uganda while he was participating in workshops on International Women's Day.

"I soon realized that, in general, the level of sex education in Uganda was incredibly poor," he said. "A vast amount of the children were brought up either by peer groups, grandparents, or neighbors, and neither they nor the schools gave any sex education at all. I did not know this was an issue, but as the day went on I came to realize that with all the money that is being spent on AIDS awareness and the use of condoms, proper sex education at an earlier age was probably more important and was the whole point about AIDS that was being missed."

To give a young man a condom, with the explanation it will help decrease the risk of HIV, is somewhat pointless if they're unsure how it is used. For people to understand this concept, they need to be more fully informed from the beginning.

Proper education is crucial, as many myths have led a number of countries, including South Africa, to suffer from a high incidence of child rape cases. One widespread myth is the belief in the virgin cure. This revolting superstition states that if a person is infected with HIV, they can cure this by having sex with a virgin; hence, the younger a girl, the greater the chance of her being a virgin. Age is no barrier, as babies reportedly have been sexually abused due to this myth.

According to AVERT, 25 percent of injecting drug users live in Southeast Asia. Infected drug users are another factor which contributes to the rise in AIDS.

If an individual carries the virus and shares a needle with someone who does not have the disease, they will very likely become infected, along with anyone they have sex with, man or woman, and anyone else they choose to share needles with. Dirty needles are often left in the slums and out on the streets and are thereby accessible to children -- another young life lost to AIDS.

In the International AIDS Conference earlier this year, in Canada, it was highlighted that China has 70,000 new HIV infections per year, along with increased drug users. A country far from Africa now shares the same epidemic, but on a lower scale. The Chinese government soon began to acknowledge this problem and has provided an action plan to help fight the virus and to support the victims by offering free testing and condom promotion.

In some countries in Africa and Asia, HIV patients take up more than half of the hospital beds, according to a report by the UNAIDS. Many Third World countries do not have the resources to provide as much support as China has, because the money is not available. Instead, they find themselves in a bigger rut, with overcrowded orphanages and poorer health care.

AIDS is on the rise in Eastern Europe, as well; and in the United States, the highest number of people living with HIV occurred in the year 2005, at a record level of 1.2 million.

Developing countries are falling apart due to the loss of lives from AIDS. Children are losing their parents. If they don't end up in an orphanage, they are left to raise the rest of their family -- children raising children. Productive farmers and other members of society are passing away.

Indigenous people do not have sources of information about HIV; and for people who have been displaced from their home countries, language barriers prevent them from retrieving information on AIDS.

So what is the solution? Although there is still no cure in sight, for countries with stable medical supplies, there are antiretroviral drugs to help slow down the virus at early stages. Also, support is available for people living with AIDS, such as counseling.

What about the children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, living in poverty without these medical supplies and services?

They are left to die.

Volunteer Mike Willets did his placement through the Global Volunteer Network. For more information, see

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