DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - Myths about AIDS common among
men in some cultures, such as that sleeping with virgins can
cure it, are putting young women and girls at extra risk of
catching the deadly disease, activists said Thursday.
The activists, interviewed at the 13th International AIDS
Conference, also expressed fears that the practice of virginity
testing in some countries could be making the problem worse by
identifying virgins for men with AIDS. Unemployment in deprived
urban areas also left sexual excess as the only recreation for
some young people, further spreading the disease, they added.
Figures presented at the conference show that 1 million
children below the age of 15 are already living with HIV/AIDS
in sub-Saharan Africa and 12 million have been orphaned by the
"I don't think there are concrete enough plans with deadlines
and budgets for us to see implementation (of anti-AIDS
programs)," said South African AIDS and children's activist
"If we don't act now, in 15 years' time it is too ghastly to
As the coordinator of CINDI, a national South African network
for children affected by AIDS, Spain knows the impact of the
disease on young people, particularly in rural areas where
silence, myths, stigma and ignorance surround AIDS.
Aids A Taboo Subject
People in these areas still find it difficult to talk about
AIDS and refer to the disease by euphemisms, activists say.
A survey of 260 African truck drivers, of whom 95 percent were
sexually active, showed that 35 percent believed sleeping with
a virgin could cure AIDS.
"The fact that there is an idea that you can have sex with a
virgin and be cured is a real problem that has to be acted
on," said Tessa Marcus, a professor of sociology at the
University of Natal in South Africa.
Marcus and Spain are also concerned about virgin testing, a
practice in which young girls are examined by their mothers or
village matriarchs to make sure they are chaste.
They said the practice could endanger the lives of girls.
"To declare yourself a virgin is like putting a flag up and
saying 'come to get me'," Marcus said.
Many young girls also mistakenly believe that if a man looks
healthy he cannot be infected with HIV and they are unaware of
how to protect themselves from infection, she said.
Governments Reluctant To Act
Spain said politicians and officials had failed to address the
problem of AIDS because it was not a vote-winner and touched on
the major taboos of sexuality and death.
"And then you have a dispossessed youth with no jobs and no
money for recreation and so sexual excess becomes pure
"I was readying a survey done with youths in (the South
African township of) Soweto where jackrollering (gang rape) was
seen as sport."
Young women who were interviewed thought it was all right to
have non-consensual sex, that it was part of life, she added.
"It is happening," Marcus said, "and every incident is one