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World AIDS Day
November 30, 2004
Amy Patterson
World AIDS Day is Wednesday, December 1. And this year the day will focus more closely on women, one of AIDS hardest-hit victims.

In fact, a United Nations report last week on Africa and AIDS shows that women and girls are being decimated by the disease, especially in Africa.

Calvin College professor of political science Amy Patterson is editor of the forthcoming book "The African State and the AIDS Crisis."

She says AIDS often impacts the powerless members of society -- migrants, women, children and people with limited economic and political power. The consequences of that, she believes, are significant.

"Since women produce most of the food, care for children and also care for those who are sick, including those with AIDS," she says, "the loss of socialization, nurturers and food producers is potentially profound."

The loss is also almost impossible to calculate she adds, quoting Alan Whiteside, a researcher at the University of Natal in South Africa who asks "How do you put a price tag on a cuddle?"

The challenges in Africa, says Patterson, are enormous.

"The New York Times reported recently that Africa needs at least a million more health care workers to address AIDS," she says. "We are discovering as AIDS drugs become cheaper that there is still the problem of getting them to people. There are not enough doctors and nurses, not good storage facilities, not good distribution systems to disperse them, even in relatively rich countries like South Africa which has a goal of providing free drugs to all of its HIV positive citizens who need them."

Patterson says that AIDS in Africa is a problem the U.S. should be worried about.

There are, she says, lots of reasons, including security issues and the global economy, but the most important, she believes, is a deeper and more philosophical concern.

"The measure of our 'greatness' as the world's lone superpower," she says, "rests not solely on what we do with our hard power - that is, with our economic and military might. It rests also on what we do - sometimes alone and sometimes with others - to address the world's most difficult problems. If we are truly to be seen as a 'benevolent' superpower, not a power that is arrogant and unconcerned about the rest of the world and its people, we cannot ignore problems such as AIDS."