Underreaction to AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa

Soc Sci Med. 1992 Jun;34(11):1169-82. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(92)90310-m.


In those parts of Sub-Saharan Africa most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic both public and private reaction to the seriousness of the epidemic have been less than might have been anticipated. This limited reaction weakens national, community and family responses to the epidemic and also reduces the pressure on international donors to provide adequate support. The paper first examines the reasons for underreaction by governments. These reasons include an assessment that successes will not be easily achieved, a reluctance to give leadership in areas of private sensitivity, an awareness of the fragility of the data base, a persistent feeling that it is a disease of foreign origin with a foreign overreaction to the situation in Africa, and the nature of the disease itself with a long latency period, obscure symptoms and an urban bias. Nevertheless, the paper argues that the more fundamental underreaction, shaping the reactions of governments, is that from the community itself. This arises partly from the demonstration that it is a sexually transmitted disease in societies where the discussion of sexual relations between the generations and the sexes has always been difficult and where new religions have in some societies reinforced older attitudes towards the shame of being discovered to have had illicit relationships. However, the main reasons lie in continuing aspects of the cultures which emphasize the multiple antecedents of misfortune and plural explanations of death, an element of predestination in when death takes place, a concept of good fortune--sometimes arising from or demonstrated by sexual activity--which renders misadventure unlikely, and a courage when facing death which is partly attributable to belief about survival beyond this event.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / ethnology
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / mortality
  • Africa, Southern
  • Attitude to Death / ethnology
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Databases, Factual / standards
  • Forecasting
  • Guilt
  • Humans
  • Prejudice
  • Prognosis
  • Religion and Medicine
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology
  • Social Values