- Photo Essay - September 23, 2005


September 30, 2005: The HIV-AIDS Issue

A young doctor at one of the city's private hospitals confided to us that the spread of HIV-AIDS in Ethiopia may be - at last - brought under control in a matter of 2-3 years if current efforts of public awareness continue. It may be an optimistic view given that HIV-AIDS remains to be the number 3 killer of young people in Ethiopia with almost 10% prevalence among the urban population and more than 1.5 million Ethiopian currently living with the virus in their bodies. And then, there are the children.....almost 1 million of them orphaned by this plague.

It was against this dreadful background that our Photo Essay Team decided to do a story on what the country is doing to control the spread of this disease. Among the first pictures of billboards that we took was the one we saw in Shashemene that goes something like: Adultery is sin; the wages of sin are death. These kinds of 'into your face' billboards, we thought, were exactly what the country needed. It is hard to point out when the HIV-AIDS virus made an appearance in our corner of the world, we are told by experts, but imagine where we would have been in the fight against this disease if the country had adopted a serious response to this crisis way back in the mid-80s. "Loga le-loga siyawega anega" sang the great Wibshet in the 80s as the disease silently made its way to Ethiopia and spread like wild fire and swiftly claimed its first victims - Wibshet himself widely believed to be among them. We wasted opportunity to tackle heads-on the threats posed by this disease as our health officials warned of the dangers but religious and social establishments (like the Churches and Idirs, etc) kept quiet oblivious to the dark clouds of social disruptions that this pandemic gathered. The 90s were also times of wasted opportunities as no one in authority seemed to care until teachers, soldiers, businessmen, fathers, housewives, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, little children, health officials, and government officials started dying left and right. It was only when whole families started disappearing and the very social fabric of Ethiopia that had sustained continuous blows from social upheavals like the Dergue/Ihadeg eras, famine and then this pandemic started unraveling that not only Ethiopia but also health officials around the world panicked and went to action. Thank to the Almighty, we thought, the tides may be finally turning against this pandemic of Biblical proportions.

The photos show some of the innovative billboard commercials that NGOs have put up in various parts of the country. When Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Difar wish you a Happy 1998 and advise you to be sensible from a huge billboard in front of the Municipality Building, then no one in the city, we presume, will think of HIV-AIDS as a joke. We hope in another two years we will do a story on this subject to report a good news if the predictions of our doctor friend from St. Gabriel Hospital come true.


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