In a tourist lodge where I worked, female staff members would find a small handwritten note under their wooden doors a couple of times a week. And it wasn’t delivered by the postman.
“$0.50 to sleep with me with a condom and $1.00 to sleep with me without a condom”, was the standard message most of the time. Signed: staff-member X.
The meeting would happen at night when everybody in the lodge had gone to sleep.
On another day in another lodge, I was called to the staff village. A child had been born overnight. Nobody knew the lady in question was pregnant, she wasn’t married either and had no idea who the biological father might be. She worked normally on the day previous to the birth.
In Tanzania I once had to help a Maasai staff member whose wife had gone into labour, but had up till now (five days later) not received her child. It took me two hours with a vehicle to get her of a mountain and into a hospital. All the time her husband sat next to me.
The last month before returning back to Europe I saved a ladies life by inserting (with radio-help from a qualified nurse) an anal drip four times. Her dehydration was most likely the result of an HIV infection.
Living and working in remote parts of the African wilderness, far away from spouse and kids isn’t always easy for African staff members in the tourism industry. Especially when you work three months on and one month off. Being isolated in the wilderness brings with it the formation of new extra-marital ‘partnerships’ and an increased risk in the spreading of HIV and other illnesses.
The fact that African social structures are tighter than in the developed world means that workers are also more absent from the job as they often have to look after the wellbeing of their relatives and friends.
The diagram below explains how HIV (in)directly affects the workforce and costs:
The governments of SADC (Southern African Developing Countries) have since ten years been aware about the dangers lurking in the bush and created, with the help of the European Union, a factsheet called ‘HIV and AIDS and Tourism’.
The factsheets comes up with ten guide lines for the HIV protection of tourists, local communities and the tourism sector as a whole and shows some, to say the least, remarkable recommendations.
We can read that ‘tourist should be reassured of the availability of healthcare facilities in the SADC countries’ (bullet 2). The relation with the HIV protection of everybody involved in the tourism industry, is beyond me. Spreading of HIV does not depend on facilities being present or not.
Bullet 3 is almost comical. It urges ‘tourism establishments to provide information to travelers and employees on the risk of rape, as well as train staff members in the counseling of rape survivors…’.
This would be a really good marketing strategy to increase tourism to a country: “Mrs Jones, when you travel to Africa, please bear in mind you could get raped….”.
And as far as rape amongst Africans goes, the women are often too scared to mention it. Let alone press charges.
Furthermore, does this cover the backs of governments by warning us up front that rapes happen? Should they not focus on preventing rape from happening, not only to tourists but especially their own people?
And I am afraid bullet 4 is also not realistic. ‘Research should be undertaken on the behaviours of tourists that may increase their risk and the risk of HIV transmission to the local population’.
Although I understand that HIV transmission is also possible from tourist to local, we might expect that the risks from local to tourist are about 100 times higher when looking at the statistics for Sub-Saharan Africa, where 35% of the 2007 HIV infections and 38% of all Aids deaths occurred.
The recommendations from bullet 6-10 make sense. Many companies have seen the threat to their employees (and their own bank accounts) and have introduced HIV/Aids awareness programs. In some cases, permanently employed nurses regularly tour the establishments and educate, test and inform the workers.
Fortunately the availability of ART’s (Anti Retroviral Treatment) is on the increase in Sub Saharan Africa and this treatment will not only save (and prolong) many lives but severely reduce costs related to workers falling ill due to HIV/Aids. This does however mean a serious commitment by governments to dish out heaps of money as can be read in The Economic Impact of HIV/Aids in Botswana.
What does all this mean for you?
First of all that you won’t get infected with HIV if you stick to the normal ways of avoiding it.
Secondly, exercise a bit of patience when holiday-ing in Africa. Not like the couple that recently called a Dutch tour company from South Africa and complained that their pick-up was five minutes late. Later it appeared the guy fell ill while on his way to collect these people.
Last, but not least, the chances of getting raped are (apart from South Africa) very slim when you visit Africa. Simply avoid dodgy places and, especially when being a female, travel with a partner.
Would HIV for you be a reason not to travel to Africa?