Ever since I can remember (although in reality its probably only since the late 1980s), I have lived with the grim warnings about the scourge of HIV/AIDS. Futurists have been warning of the dire consequences of having as much as 20% of the workforce taken out. Health care professionals have been warning of the dangers of such a communicable disease and have been trying to change sexual habits (remember when condoms were used to stop life? Now they’re used to safe life!). (Aside: not everyone has maintained this line – South Africa’s Minister of Health has rather spent her time increasing the sales of beetroot, garlic and onion). Churches have used the disease as an excuse to spread their own brand of sexual health (“sex is dirty, so keep it for marriage”). And NGO’s the world over have proliferated, as they try to deal with the health issues, the “dying with dignity” issues and the problem of orphans (2 million orphans expected by 2010 in South Africa alone).
Yet, with all this fuss, I must confess that I have been relatively untouched by AIDS at the moment. It is true that anyone CAN get AIDS, but the reality is that rich, educated people are unlikely to actually contract it, except if we’re exceptionally stupid or amazingly unlucky. AIDS continues to be the scourge of the lower class and the most vulnerable.
The first person that I actually knew who died of AIDS passed away about 10 years ago. She was the vivacious and upbeat receptionist at a computer training company I worked for. In a six month period she wasted away in front of our eyes, to a mere shadow of herself, and then the end came swiftly. Since then, I have known only a few people who have died of AIDS. Most of them have been contractors who have worked in my home.
But now, in the past few weeks, the spectre of a killer has emerged. XDR TB (Extra Drug Resistant Tuberculosis) has been diagnosed in South Africa. This strain is the result of people not following through with their full 6 month course of treatment. People do not die of AIDS. They die when HIV/AIDS has destroyed their immune system, and then they get hit with what would otherwise be a curable disease. The biggest such killer is TB. Its curable, even if you have AIDS, as long as take the drugs for 6 months. However, after 3 or 4 months, you feel 100% better. Some people therefore stopped the treatment, and TB developed immunity to these drugs and mutated into a horrible, untreatable disease. Already over 50 people have died.
Could this be it? Could this be the time bomb that explodes and rips through the HIV+ community, destroying all in its wake? It certainly looks as if it has the potential to bring the devastastion we have all feared since I was a child.

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