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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Hunting AIDS As It Reaches Epidemic Levels

Student global AIDS Campiagn demonstartors, dressed as grim reapers, protest Bush administration policies on AIDS
KRT/Saul Loeb
Student global AIDS Campiagn demonstartors, dressed as grim reapers, protest Bush administration policies on AIDS

One might think it would take a natural disaster to stir the vagrants slumped along the couches of the Ryan Lounge on a weekday afternoon. Two weeks ago it took an epidemic.

Dr. Susan Hunter has spent the last 15 years working on AIDS/HIV for organizations like UNICEF, UNAIDS, and USAID. Hunter lifted the lounge from its late afternoon stupor as she spoke on the frightening misinformation, even more staggering realities, and the grim future of AIDS/HIV in Sub-Sahara Africa, Asia, and the global community. “The two biggest outbreaks of HIV in the United States in 2003 were on college campuses in North Carolina and Florida,” said Hunter. “Many of us think this thing has been cured. This thing is over with. We don’t have to worry about this thing…When, in fact, this thing is just getting it’s feet under itself around the world,” she continued.

Hunter relayed that the scope of the AIDS epidemic is worse than the information made available in the public sphere and stressed the importance of being careful and critical of data on HIV/AIDS that is easily available.

After working on AIDS in Africa for 13 years, Hunter decided to write a book to help fill in the gaps in information on the disease. One question Hunter tackles in her 2001 work Black Death: AIDS in Africa is how HIV/AIDS compares to the casualties of major wars and other outbreaks of disease.

“What I gradually realized…was that AIDS was doing a lot better than any of them. In fact, a lot better of all the wars of this century combined,” said Hunter.

With charts graphing how the decimation of disease events like the Bubonic plague, the infection of the American Indians, and outbreaks have historically surpassed and sometimes even dwarfed the casualties of the first and second World Wars, and the reigns of Mao and Stalin, Hunter relayed that HIV/AIDS predictions follow suit with 70 million dead by the year 2010, with three million new deaths and five million new infections each year.

“HIV/AIDS is going to be around as a human disease forever and it’ll be at grave epidemic levels for the next three hundred years,” explained Hunter.

Hunter continued relaying the huge proportion of infection in Sub-Sahara Africa. She cited that 70 percent of those affected by the disease are in Africa, and relayed that it is projected that from the years 1980 to 2010, 10 to 15 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population will be dead as a result of the disease.

Hunter further addressed Asia is beginning to rival Africa. She offered that the National Intelligence Council forecasts that by 2010, 10 to 15 million in China, 20 to 25 million in India, and five to eight million in Russia will be infected with HIV/AIDS.

Hunter explained that the reuse of injection equipment, lack of proper screening, and the immersion of “blood pimps” with stables full of people that gave blood for financial compensation as much a twice a week as contributed to the problem.

Hunter further pointed to the intersection of the United States government with drug companies as a hindrance to providing aid to countries in Africa and Asia with relief. She used the current administration’s bullying of Botswana into purchasing drugs for AIDS relief from American pharmaceutical companies rather than more economical sources elsewhere as an example.

“You’re looking at 460 million people dead or infected by 2025, and it’ll probably come faster because everything is vastly underreported,” said Hunter. “We’ve got a lot to be frightened of, what’s happening is that the epidemic is getting much more female and the epidemic is getting much younger,” she warned.

“I see it as a pure intergenerational power struggle…Older people who fail to understand, who fail to make sex education and condoms available are just condemning young people to death. And also condemning the world.”

Following her talk Dr. Hunter made copies of her book, Black Death: AIDS in Africa available, donating half the profits to the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Sahara Africa.

“It’s written for lay people that don’t know a whole lot about HIV/AIDS,” she said of her book. “It tries to put AIDS in the context of human evolution. Also it tries to give people an idea of the impact beyond the numbers.” To move beyond the statistics, Hunter through tracing the story of a group of women involved in community-based intervention in Uganda. Hunter continues with a similar approach in her forthcoming book AIDS in Asia: A Continent in Peril.

Natalia Cooper, Coordinator of the Women’s Center who sponsored the event along with the Africana Studies Program and the Veteran’s Center, was pleased with Dr. Hunter’s appearance. “The event was a success, we had a great turnout,” she said. “Susan Hunter really appreciated the audiences’ attentiveness. She really made an impression.” Cooper added that Hunter had sold 17 books and received $350 in donations as a result.

Senior psychology major Sabrina Cushing was among those in attendance. “It is so staggering to see the numbers and then try to wrap your arms around it,” said Cushing of Hunter’s talk. “She said how many nights she’s cried thinking about how overwhelming this thing is, and you sit there and you’re like, ‘Wow. I never knew,’ since it’s not broadcast on the news everyday.”

“I think it’s nice to bring someone like Ms. Hunter on campus to open discussion and have people become more aware because when you see there were no questions from the audience what that meant is they didn’t know what to ask and they didn’t know very much,” added Margery O’Donnell, administrator for the UMB Center for Democracy and Development and herself involved in HIV/AIDS projects in Kenya and Sub-Sahara Africa. “We need more AIDS awareness in this country I believe, and I think it’s nice to start right here on campus.”