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In Tanzania, Albinos Targeted Because of AIDS Superstition

by Kilian Melloy
Monday May 9, 2011
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Albinos in the East African nation of Tanzania are the targets of murder and rape by those who believe that the victims hold the key to curing AIDS and bringing good fortune, Reuters reported in a May 5 story.

Witch doctors prepare elixirs from the blood, bones, and organs of murdered albinos, who are regarded as being demonic and inhuman. The preparations are then used to bring good fortune, the article said.

But a fresh twist on this superstitious belief has it that sex with an albino can cure AIDS. The result has been a wave of rapes targeting albino girls.

In other African nations, a similar superstition has prompted the rape of virgins by men infected with HIV. There is no medical evidence to suggest that sex of any sort will cure AIDS. But unprotected sex is a primary means of transmitting the virus, meaning that such behavior results in no health benefit whatsoever, while contributing to the spread of the disease.

"We believe there are hundreds and hundreds of killings in Tanzania, but only a small number are being reported to the police," said the head of Canadian organization Under the Same Sun, Peter Ash.

"There is belief that if you have relations with a girl with albinism, you will cure AIDS," Ash continued. "So there are many girls with albinism who are being raped in this country because of this belief, which is a false belief."

"Activists last week reported three murders of teenage albino boys from the same family in northern Tanzania, who were poisoned and their bones later robbed from their graves," Reuters reported. Though the Tanzanian government has vowed to take action, it has done little to combat the wave of rapes and killings, the article said.

Bizarre myths about AIDS and gays are prevalent in a number of African nations. Until recent years, Government officials in South Africa held up a concoction made with beet juice as a cure. Drug dealers in South African townships reportedly steal AIDS medications to fabricate designer drugs touted as imparting a psychedelic high--even through anti-retrovirals possess no such qualities.

In South Africa and other African nations, so-called "corrective rape" is used against lesbians in the belief that forced sex with men will "cure" them. And in Uganda, a belief that homosexuality is a contagious import from the West helped prompt the notorious "death to gays" bill proposed by David Bahati, a lawmaker with ties to anti-gay American evangelicals.

But the myth of rape as a cure for AIDS is not confined to Africa, according to a 2002 article posted at Science in Africa. The article says that the belief is also commonplace in India and Thailand--and has its roots in England.

"The myth of the Virgin Cure has a rich and culturally diverse history stretching back to 16th century Europe, and more prominently to be found in 19th century Victorian England, where, in spite of the emphasis on morality, rectitude and family values, there existed a widespread belief, that sexual intercourse with a virgin was a cure for syphilis, gonorrhea, [and other STD’s]," the article states.

"Syphilis, like HIV/Aids, was fatal in its terminal stages. In the Eastern Cape of South Africa, when a significant outbreak of STD’s was spread by troops returning home from overseas after WWII, the Virgin Cure was widely sought among the population."

Similarly, anti-gay laws throughout former English colonies had their origin in an English statue that was imposed upon indigenous peoples. Those laws, along with anti-gay attitudes, are now part of the cultures of former British colonies, whereas homosexuality--a naturally occurring phenomenon that manifests at a stable rate in all societies and social strata--has come to be regarded in some cultures as a "disease" from abroad.

About one and a half million Tanzanians are HIV+. The country’s total population is nearly 41 million.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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