07 July 2011

The Assassin

I was scanning the pages of Granta 69: The Assassin when I came across a photo essay by former Magnum photographer Kent Klich.
In 1989, the first television pictures from Romania's children's homes shocked the world. More than 100,000 undernourished children were kept in institutions reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps: left lying in their own faeces, bound hand and foot, maltreated by their 'guards'. No one touched them gently.
Soon it was found that thousands of the children had been infected with HIV, either through transfusions of infected blood or by syringes that had been reused without being sterilized. The fact that low-birthweight children in Romania would be given micro-transfusions of blood to help their chance of survival only increased the risk of transmitting HIV.
According to President (Nicholae) CeauČ™escu, HIV and Aids did not exist in Romania—which is why, for a decade before his downfall in 1990, the virus was able to spread so quickly. Under his regime, families were required to have as many children as possible—the norm was five children to each woman—which put an impossible burden on the poor. Contraceptives were forbidden, abortion was illegal. The result was thousands of primitive abortions and tens of thousands of children abandoned to state institutions.
Sound familiar? I don't mean to make rash comparisons and assess the state of the Philippines in light of what happened twenty years ago in Europe, but lost, it seems, in all this talk about the proposed Reproductive Health Bill is the serious underreporting of HIV incidence in the country.

According to the local health department, 6,016 cases of HIV/Aids have been reported from 1984 to 2010. Yes, that seems to be the twenty-six-year total. There are close to a hundred million people in the Philippines—over sixteen million in Metro Manila alone, meaning there are more people in this capital region than in New York City, but that's another problem, I guess.

In any event, it doesn't take a mathematician to know that those numbers don't add up.

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