Sex is as common in the West African way of life as going out to dinner is
for many westerners. Without social or moral misgivings, sexual acts are
commonly performed in exchange for money, favors, or services, as well
as for the most common reason-enjoyment. Despite the social acceptance
of casual sex, jealousy is as much of a problem in their culture as it is
in ours. But jealousy is hardly the worst side effect of their behaviors.
The prostitute shown here is aware of some sexually transmitted diseases,
but is skeptical about the existence of AIDS. To many West Africans, it
is a made-up disease, a malady conjured up by missionary groups who've
resorted to scare tactics in their decades-long attempt to change sexual
behaviors. Their doubts also stem from the fact that there are no visible
signs of AIDS. Medication isn't available to slow down the weakening of
the immune system, so there are no overt signs of physical deterioration
to prove that AIDS is affecting the population. For Africans, people
who die today are dying from the same afflictions they always have:
dehydration, disease, malnutrition, etc. Telling them that AIDS
accelerates these processes or makes people more vulnerable to these
conditions is equally ineffective.
The task of educating people and effecting changes in behavior has
been more difficult than anticipated. It requires participation from
non-religious groups and the world community as a whole.