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Remarks by Dr. Alberta Mayberry, Consulate General of the USA in Cape Town

USAID Award-Granting Ceremony to University of the Western Cape

March 3, 2009

Honorable Minister of Education,
Vice-Chancellor Dr. O’Connell,
USAID  Director Carlene Dei,
Ladies and gentlemen,

On the one hand, it is an honor and a pleasure for me to be here representing the U.S. government on this very important occasion.  I applaud USAID for this very significant Grant.  As most of you here know, The University of the Western Cape has played and continues to play a historic role in the development of South Africa, for which it should be proud.  It is also an institution with long-standing ties to the USA, and Dr. O’Connell is a distinguished alumnus of one of our finest US institutions, Colombia University in New York City.    Mr. Vice Chancellor, it is always a pleasure to be in your company, and especially on this momentous occasion today. 

On the other hand, Madam Minister, the context of this event, and the reasons necessitating it, are indeed sobering.  Most of us gathered here are familiar with the horribly depressing statistics on the scourge of HIV/AIDS and the tally of lives lost, destroyed and disrupted.  I will not recite those numbers to you this morning.  I will, however, point out a few things that were noted in a recent article in the Cape Times.

HIV+prevalence rate among Africans in the Cape of 19.9 % - one in five people.  This compares with 3.5% HIV+ rate for coloureds and .5% for whites.  Why?  We have so frequently said that HIV/AIDS has no respect of race, creed, color, age or gender.  So why are the rates more than 5 times higher for Blacks in this country than for coloureds and more than 40 times the rate of whites being infected?

 Researchers Chris Kenyon and Motasim Badri surmise in their article that the rates are extraordinarily different because of a prevalent difference in life style choices.  A learned behavior in sexual habits in the Black African community in the Cape, the practice of having multiple simultaneous sexual partners is a primary reason for this shocking rate of AIDS infection.  Why, you ask?  Because in one to two months following HIV infection, the levels of the virus in the blood and genital fluids are much higher than at any other stage in the infection.   An HIV-infected person is 10-40 times more infectious, at this early stage, than at later stages.  So, bed-hopping, one night stands, frequent partners and a promiscuous sexual life style, while glamorized in movies and in music, is a learned behavior that must be unlearned in order to stop this rapid transmission of HIV/AIDS.

It does nobody any good to gloss over this reality.  We must face it, and we must draw the appropriate conclusion – changes in behavior are needed to reduce the spread of HIV:  changes in sexual behavior.  In order to effect that change, education and positive role models are essential.  All of this is obvious. 

And so I say to you today: Train up a child in the way that he or she should go and when he or she is older, he or she will not depart from it.  Education must start early.   Wisely, the money going to UWC from USAID is meant to address the matter head on, and about that we need not be coy.  The ABC approach – Abstinence, Be Faithful, use a Condom – has its share of critics, but here I would like to point out that the “B” part of the formula – Be Faithful – is precisely the conclusion that the facts noted a moment ago lead to. 

We all urge our young people to remain abstinent until they are married or in a long-term committed relationship.  And if and when they choose to engage sexually we further urge that they would use condoms.  We hope that this grant will help more young people to focus on the change required to be selective about partners.  Teach the children to be slow to engage sexually, and even slower to engage, again with someone new.  It’s a simple point, but it’s sufficiently important that I will repeat it – multiple simultaneous partners increase the spread of HIV within a population. 

If this grant, this project can reduce that practice, we can reduce the spread of HIV.  Knowing that reducing rates of HIV infection is our ultimate goal, I commend UWC and its cooperating schools.  I wish you the best of luck, and I thank you.