Category: Issues

Lessons to be learned

PCV Suzanne Capehart tackles tough issues with her students in a discussion about homosexuality and homosexual rights

By Katrina Shankle

In Benin there are plenty of misconceptions about homosexuality. For many volunteers, it is a subject we want to broach but a difficult one as these conversations are not always welcome in our communities. A volunteer in the Alibori North of Benin, Suzanne Capehart was able to take on the subject with her homologue and a group of students and has shared her experience.

To open the session, Suzanne started by simply just explaining to the group of students homosexuality as basically as possible: the concept of men being attracted to men and women to women. During this portion of the session she spent a lot of time emphasizing the point that being homosexual is not a lifestyle choice nor a disease- two commonly believed myths- and instead something with which you are born, like a personal trait. Students had much to say about this as many came in believing that it was a disease. A handful of students were concerned that not only was homosexuality a disease but that it was a contagious one, and as Suzanne came from a place they knew homosexuals to come from, they feared she was a carrier that could potentially infect them. This idea is not uncommon. In many countries across Africa, homosexuality is seen as an import of colonialism. People believe nonheteronormative sexualities did not exist before Europeans came to Africa.

Students were also generally confused about the sexual nature of homosexual relationships and some were confused about reproduction in regards to same sex relationships. Some students believed that someone could still produce a baby in a same sex relationship. Suzanne explained that there are many ways for a same-sex couple to become parents but that a baby could not be produced without an egg and a sperm. In this part of the conversation she explained briefly the nature of same-sex sexual relationships. Interestingly, she found that students were far more comfortable accepting and understanding the nature of women engaging in a same sex relationship but when discussing male same sex relationships the students were much more disbelieving and disapproving.

Finally, Suzanne addressed gay rights and gay pride in the United States, sharing experiences of gay pride days with the students. She said this was an interesting subject for the students as Benin has a “don’t ask don’t tell”- like culture, the idea of people being so public about their sexual orientation and expressing a pride in their community was surprising to them.

These conversations are so important to have. While some or even most students may ultimately reject what Suzanne explained to them, it is important to share a different perspective and encourage, the youth in particular, to be more inquisitive and accepting. That being said, it is not an easy thing to do and it can come with consequences. For Suzanne, many of the students she held the session with believed she was gay for discussing it with them. This raised concerns for her with dealing with students’ families that may not be accepting of their students having a gay teacher or even a teacher who teaches them a view on homosexuality that is rejected by society. She and her homologue had to work to try to dispel these misconceptions about her personal life to protect her ability to continue to work in the community. There is obviously a tricky balance with much of the work we do in respecting beliefs and pushing forward thinking, but Suzanne’s story is ultimately one of success. She has reported at least some members of her community trying harder to at least be respectful despite their personal views when referring to homosexuals. Despite having to explain her own sexuality, the community has moved on and she managed to be a very effective volunteer while still being able to push the envelope with her community through sharing her own opinions and experiences.

Manly Men

The tenets of machismo – aggression, strength and manliness – define what it means to be a man through the subordination of women and homosexuals

By Katrina Shankle

Machismo means manliness, chauvinism or virility. When describing a culture it is referring to a societal ethos of exerting aggressive masculinity with a dogmatic view of what manliness means; it is the by-product of a paternalistic society. These kinds of values are often troubling for women and homosexuals as gender roles are inflexible, and a divergence from the norm is viewed as taboo.

Generally when using the word machismo to describe a culture it is in reference to Latin American countries (with the word’s origin in Spanish). In reality, the number of countries with elements of a machismo culture is vast, with the key ingredients to this kind of culture only being a male-dominated society with very traditional views of gender roles.

In these societies, a variance from a typical “strong” male character is a weakness. The stereotype of homosexual men perpetuated by these societies is that they are all effeminate, weak or submissive, and in this manner are viewed as a second class.

So powerful is this idea of an aggressive male in some Latino cultures, that they have adopted a view that even a man who takes on a relationship with another man is not necessarily homosexual. In Colombia this is characterized by the expression “soy tan macho que me cojo otro hombre” (I’m so macho that I fuck other men). In this way, in Latino cultures, the concept of machismo hasn’t only created a hierarchy among the gay and straight but also among the gay community.

These attitudes are very obviously detrimental to society. The stigmatization of what it means to be homosexual fuels violence against individuals and the gay community as a whole.

According to Avert, in 2005 it was estimated that a gay man was killed every two days in Latin America because of his sexuality. These attitudes force people to conform to heteronormativity, keeping people closeted, even participating in heterosexual marriages to avoid suspicion. These views impact people’s social lives, professional lives and their ability to participate in society. For a gay man, his sexual orientation becomes his sole identifier.

The prominent role of machismo tenets in the demonization of homosexuality among men has had an interesting effect on gay women. Not being affected by the same constraints of machismo ideology in relation to their sexual orientation, it has been seen in particular in Latino cultures, that gay women are far less visible with less misfortunes of a reactionary community. Suspicions of a woman being a lesbian are far less common than suspicions of a man being gay, a woman can remain unmarried, she can live with another woman and the perception is generally that she is frigid. However, women do not get off unscathed, the constraints of a machismo culture put women gay or straight in a secondary role making it harder to find jobs and exert independence.

Machismo ideals are not typically at work alone. In most cases the dominance of a religion with damaging views toward homosexuality further limits the support network of those ostracized by their community. While in most Latino cultures these systems of values are only embedded within social norms and values, many African nations (37) still outlaw homosexuality and in a very few the “act” of homosexuality can lead to life imprisonment or the death penalty, in these societies the homosexual community finds little reprieve within any corner of society. A machismo ethos only points to the malady of a society perpetuated in both its religious tenants, social norms and in some contexts the laws.

A Fight Yet to Be Won

Despite the legality of homosexuality, Beninese members of the LGBT community face discrimination and homophobia as part of their daily lives.

By Emily Becker

As a member of the LGBT community in Benin, Jean* is used to hearing the horror stories about being gay in a country where, although technically not illegal, homosexuality is generally not accepted. As the president of the Hirondelle Club, an association of LGBT Beninese that meets every Monday in Cotonou, Jean has met individuals who have been driven out of their homes after being seen kissing another man, individuals who have been victims of assaults both physical and verbal and in extreme situations, individuals who have ended their lives over their sexuality.

“We do not choose our sexual orientation,” said Jean. “They did not choose to be straight. We did not choose to be gay. This is our life, our identity.”

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Despite the fact that neither homosexuality nor homosexual acts are illegal in Benin, laws rarely change the opinions of individuals. In Benin, like many other countries in Africa, homosexuality is seen as an abomination by churches, or as an import from the colonial influence of Europe.

“Many people believe homosexuality is either an act of witchcraft or it is imported from the Western world,” said Jacques, a member of the LGBT community in Cotonou who relocated to Benin from France in 1990. “The strong religious influence is also a challenge to face, as many preachers still reject homosexuality during their speech at churches or mosques.”

For those who feel comfortable coming out to others or who are looking for a safe place to meet other members of the LGBT community, several organizations and support groups exist in major cities like Cotonou and Parakou. More than ten meet on a regular basis, and the French Cultural Center hosts a monthly discussion in order to reduce ignorance and homophobia.

Unfortunately, Jacques believes that, for now, the safest way to live as a gay man in Beninese society is not attract attention to oneself or sexuality.

“We give advice to the most extravagant members of the community (mostly effeminate) and ask them to go out dressed normally and change their clothes while they are in a closed area,” he said. “However, this advice is hardly followed as many think they want to live their life, come hell or high water. [As a member of the LGBT community] I must always remember that I can be the subject of rejection, mockery or insult. I therefore always pay attention every time I go out with friends, making sure we should not be the subject of general attention.”

*Names have been changed

African female athletes stand out as models of empowerment

By Katrina Shankle

“Half of running is training your body. The other half is training your mind.” That’s what I remember from training for my first marathon. At some point your mind says, there is no way you can keep doing this for another 12 miles, it tells you that you’re tired, you’re thirsty, that if you just stop you can slow your heart rate back down and catch your breath. At mile 24 you hit the wall, you muscles start to tense, your mind fatigues, literally your entire body is trying to put the brakes on what you are trying to accomplish; and yet we don’t stop. That’s the mental part, where you keep saying “just a little further”, you remind yourself of how good it’s going to feel when it is over and that victory awaits you. With the GenEq Tour du Benin fundraising run around the corner, certainly Peace Corps runners have begun gearing up: increasing their mileage, perfecting their playlists and modifying their diets. This article is dedicated to the other part of training, offering up the awe-inspiring stories of four larger-than-life female African athletes. Any one of these stories should offer enough inspiration to help push through the mental roadblocks along the run.

Tirunesh DibabaEthiopia, Long distance track athlete

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Dibaba should win an award for just the sheer number of records she has broken. With an extensive number of wins under her belt, her most noteworthy achievements are that she is the 5000-meter world record holder at 14 minutes 11.15 seconds (at the Oslo Golden League 2008 meeting), the current World and Olympic 10,000 meter champion, and winner of five world track titles as well has five world cross country titles.

In 2001, at age 15 she competed in her first fully international outdoor track event at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships; she came in 5th place. In 2003 she won the silver medal in the 5000-meter race at the Afro-Asian games, and then went on later that year to become the youngest athlete to ever win an individual gold medal at the World Championships. Then, at the 2005 Championships, she broke another record by becoming the first woman to win both the 10,000 m and 5,000 m at the same championship. Again, in 2007 at the Championships she won the 10,000 m, becoming the only woman to win back-to-back titles. In 2013 she ran and won the 10,000 m in Moscow, making this her fifth individual World Championship gold medal, the most ever by a female athlete.

At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, she placed third, again breaking a record by becoming the youngest medalist for Ethiopia in the Olympics. Ironically, although she broke a record, this was viewed as a disappointment as she wanted the gold. Making up for her first go at the Olympics, she won the gold medal in the 10,000 m race in the Beijing Olympics, and in her normal fashion managed to break another record by finishing it in a record time of 29:54.66. She also won the 5,000m race making her the first woman to win both the 5,000 and 10,000-meter race at the same Olympics. At the 2012 London Olympics she again won the gold in the 10,000-meter race, in the fastest run of that year, making her the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic 10,000 meter titles.

Chioma Ajunwa, Nigeria, track and field athlete, specializing in the long jump

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Ajunwa achieved worldwide notice at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta when she became the first athlete in her country, as well as the first West African woman, to win an Olympic Gold medal. To date, she remains Nigeria’s only individual Olympic gold medalist. She was born into a self-described poor home, resulting from her father’s untimely death, leaving her mother as the sole caretaker for 9 children. She originally played soccer for the Nigerian’s woman’s team, including during the 1991 Women’s World Cup, but remained unknown as she had minimal playing time. She started competing in track and field events in 1989. She began to be noticed in 1991 after the All Africa Games where she won a gold medal in the long jump. Unfortunately the following year she was banned from the sport after failing a drug test.

Following her Olympic win in 1996, Ajunwa retired from the sport and became an officer with the Nigerian Police Force. In 2012, she started her own anti-doping campaign that she has self-financed. Her initiative includes anti-doping messaging communicated directly to athletes and their coaches during athletic events.

Catherine Ndereba, Kenya, Marathon runner

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Catherine Ndereba, also known as “Catherine the Great” is a two-time winner of the marathon event at the World Championship in Athletics and two time silver medalist at the Olympics (2004 and 2008). Additionally she is a four-time winner of the Boston Marathon, a world renowned marathon that draws the best runners from all over the world. She broke the women’s marathon world record at the Chicago Marathon in 2001, finishing at 2:18:47. In 2009, she met Katrin Dorres’ record of completing 21 sub-2:30 hour marathons when she finished 7th in the London Marathon that year. In addition to her marathon fame, she also ran the world’s fastest times at the 5K at 16:09, at the 15K at 48:52, at the 12K at 38:37 and at the 10 mile at 53:07 in 1998.

Catherine the Great was named the greatest women’s marathoner of all time in 2008 by the Chicago Tribune. She has also been twice awarded the Kenyan Sportswoman of the year (in 2004 and 2005).

Natalie du Toit, South Africa, Swimmer

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Du Toit first competed internationally at age 14 when she participated in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumper. In 2001 she had her left leg amputated at the knee when she was hit by a car while riding her scooter. Not 3 months after her operation, before she was even walking again, she was training again in hopes of competing in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. She accomplished her goal and swimming without the aid of a prosthetic leg, won both the multi disability 50 m freestyle and the multi disability 100 m freestyle in world record time at the 2002 Commonwealth games in Manchester. Then in 2003, competing against able-bodied swimmers, she won the gold in the 800m freestyle at the All-Africa games and the silver in the 800m freestyle and the bronze in the 400m freestyle at the Afro-Asian games, just 2 years after her accident. She made sporting history when she qualified for the 800 m able-bodied freestyle final, making it the first time an athlete with a disability qualified for the final of an able-bodied event. She is most famed for the two gold medals she won at both the 2004 Paralympic games and the Commonwealth Games.

At the 2006 Commonwealth Games she again won two gold medals and then went on to win another six gold medals at the 4th IPC World Swimming Championships, where she also placed in 3rd overall in a race that included 36 males and 20 females. She became the first amputee ever to qualify for the Olympics, and placed 16th in the 10k marathon swim. She was one of the two Paralympians who competed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. In the 2008 summer Paralypmics she cleaned house winning five gold medals. The South Africa Olympic Committee chose Du Toit to carry their flag at the 2008 Olympic opening ceremony, making her the first athlete to carry a flag in both the Olympic and Paralympics in the same year.

Choosing four female African athletes to highlight was difficult, as there is plenty of talent to choose from. These women stand out because of their determination, perseverance, ability to overcome obstacles and the sheer number of records and glass ceilings they have broken. They are role models in their exemplary demonstration of what a focused mind and hard work can accomplish.

Village loan organizations give women monetary empowerment

By Jocelyn Brousseau

Women are frequently heads of the household; sometimes in charge of finances, and always rearing children and cooking. At the same time, they are not given the respect they deserve and are constantly belittled.

Volunteer (PST 26) Ellen Mork works with VSLAs-village saving and loan associations in Barienou in the Donga region. Basically, VSLAs are a group of up to 40 women and/or men, who meet to save and loan money. They usually meet the day after market, so once or twice a week. During their first meetings together, they set rules and regulations such as amount for a late fee, price of each “share” or part, etc. Every meeting, they put in their allotted savings, whether it be one or five shares, 100 or 1,000 franc a share- they pay what they can. They also pay “solidarity” which is money collected and given out if a member needs a short loan that doesn’t fall under the categories of a regular loan. A member could borrow from the solidarity if their child is sick and needs to go to the health center.  Once the savings have beencollected, people can take out a loan after describing what it is for and how they’ll be able to pay it back in three months. Each month, they pay an a interest rate of 10%, which seems high but these loans are much easier to receive than at the bank. At the end of the year, each member receives their savings and solidarity back, plus a profit made up of late fees and interest. If members are saving and loaning large amounts of money, a they can receive a large profit.

Ellen’s role is to attend their meetings, answer questions and guide them if the women are having issues. She has helped them in a variety of ways: from demonstrating different, more efficient ways of calculating totals, to new ways to write information. She is also working on holding formations on a wide variety of topics, ranging from how to save money in a family setting and malaria prevention to essential health actions. Working with groups like VSLAs is usually easier than working with other groups in a village. They are already a motivated group, and they are willing to make some changes to better their lives. It’s simple to plan a formation, go to their meeting and talk to them for a half an hour on a variety of topics.

The goal of a VSLA is to allow members to earn money and have money available for their needs. Thus, starting an income generating activity (IGA) is prudent. Many members have current businesses and use loans to buy more products, construct new buildings, or expand their business in other ways. Still others use a loan to start an IGA, or buy a bike for their child to go to school. VSLAs offer many ways for a family member to better their life and the life of their family by increasing the amount of money they can earn. If a family member is earning enough through the VSLA, they could send their child to school, who maybe wouldn’t have been able to go before, either because there wasn’t enough money or the child had to work to support the family.

Ellen comments that, “there’s an overall show of support for these groups with women, particularly after a husband sees how much money is earned.  Of course, one always runs into issues relating to the power a husband wields. A husband may see it as empowerment of women and thus a decrease in power he already holds, making him less important in the family. He may also see it as an unnecessary activity for the wife, when she has plenty to do at home: cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, and working in the field. I find this to be the biggest complaint from the husbands.”

VSLAs can have a large effect if they are run properly and supported by the community. It’s rewarding to see a woman receive so much money at the end of the year and know how much it will help her family.

Warrior Women: the Dahomey Amazons and the strength of an all-female army

By Katrina Shankle

“warfare is, nevertheless, the one human activity from which women, with the most insignificant exceptions, have always and everywhere stood apart. Women look to men to protect them from danger, and bitterly reproach them when they fail as defenders. Women have followed the drum, nursed the wounded, tended the fields and herded the flocks when the man of the family has followed his leader, have even dug the trenches for men to defend and labored in the workshops to send them their weapons. Women, however, do not fight. They rarely fight among themselves and they never, in any military sense, fight men. If warfare is as old as history and as universal as mankind, we must now enter the supremely important limitation that it is an entirely masculine activity.”- John Keegan, A History of Warfare

The Amazon warriors of the Dahomey kingdom

The Amazon warriors of the Dahomey kingdom

It has been nearly universally argued through time and space that war is predominately a man’s errand. The romanticism of the mythical amazon character- a fierce woman warrior- was bread out of an almost superhero context where people were fascinated in the stories of these fictional women because of their larger than life capabilities. But, as it turns out, while there were plenty of fictional stories written about imagined amazon characters, the amazon was anything but fictional. There are many reasons the story of the Dahomean amazons is so captivating; perhaps it is their complete contradiction to gender roles identified by some of the greatest thinkers of their time, perhaps it is their singular (proven) existence in history as the elite branch of their military or just the fierceness of their story. Whatever it is, it is undeniable that their story is just as captivating as any of the mythical stories told but also perplexing in its distinctiveness in history.

The Dahomey Amazons, referred locally to as mino (our mothers) or ahosi (king’s wives) were a Fon all-female military regiment and royal body guard service in the Kingdom of Dahomey. They acquired the name “amazons” by western observers due to their similarities to the mythical amazons of ancient Anatolia and the black sea. King Houegbadja (ruled 1645-1685) is suggested to have started the group by recruiting a corps of women to serve as elephant hunters called gbeto. His son, King Agadja (ruled 1708-1732) established a female bodyguard corps armed with muskets, they were in part used because no males were allowed to enter the royal palace after dark. When he recognized their talent and loyalty, he expanded their use by creating an all-female militia and used them first to defeat the neighboring Kingdom of Savi in 1727. That same summer they conquered the Whydah (Ouidah) people and then publicly executed 4,000 prisoners as sacrifices to the Voodoo gods (a common practice throughout their existence due to religious beliefs). Under the King Ghezo (ruled 1818-1858) who came into power after a coup in which he watched every amazon woman die in attempt to protect their monarch, an act of loyalty so impressive he quickly recruited more amazons for his own monarch, Dahomey became more militaristic. As such he expanded the role of the military and the use of the amazon women. These Amazon women were first primarily “recruited” from foreign captives, however as the role of the mino became more glorified and their corps expanded, women were also recruited from free Dahomean women, although sometimes this recruitment was involuntary. Once every three years families presented their daughters to the King, the prettiest would go to the King’s harem and the strongest to the militia. While some resisted and tried to run away, the majority considered it an honor. By the mid-19th century the number of amazons had expanded to between 1000 and 6000 women, about a third of the entire Dahomey army.

Their indoctrination was a very powerful process when you consider the strength and loyalty demonstrated by these women, in particular, when you consider some of their involuntary recruitment. During their membership the women had to take an oath of celibacy, they had to disavow any relation to their family and were not permitted to marry, although some were released of their duty through marriage to the King or permission to marry a prominent noble man. All these actions were to ensure the women’s first loyalty was to the monarch. After taking their oath to protect the king new recruits would each be cut in the arm, allowing the blood to collect in a human skull, it would then be added to a drink mixture each woman would take, an act to symbolize their being bound together.

The regiment was held in high regard by the Kingdom, their barracks were within the palace and they frequently received gifts and praise for their work. They were given uniforms and equipped with Danish guns obtained through the Danish slave trade, as well as machetes, and they filed their nails and teeth to a sharp point to enable them to literally fight tooth and nail. During combat, they covered their bodies in palm oil to make them difficult to grab hold of. This also added to their mysticism, with many accounts of shimmering half naked muscular woman vigorously attacking on the battlefield. While the women did experience some defeats they were consistently judged to be superior to the male soldiers in both skill and bravery. Accounts of the women generally depicted them in a brutal nature, often decapitating and dismembering their captives. They were often heard charging into battle chanting battle cries such as “conquer or die”.

In trying to explain why the community was so willing to accept a female militia, so unique to history, it is important to understand the woman’s role in the society as a whole. While most women’s lives were primarily focused on working in the market and raising children, in general, the women in Dahomey had a lot of progressive rights for their time. Women could divorce men, women had the right to turn down a marriage proposal, they were entitled to inheritance and the money they earned was theirs to spend. In addition to serving as officers in the military, women were also known to serve as judges and village chiefs as well as other prominent roles in the community. This may help explain their acceptance in the community as women warriors, yet upon their completion of indoctrination they were known to say “now we are men” despite being better soldiers than the men, which suggests that they still believed war was a man’s job.

The last battles of the Amazon women were during the Franco-Dahomean Wars in 1890 and 1892. After the French conquered Dahomey in 1892, almost all the Amazons had been wiped out. One of the first decrees announced after Dahomey formally became a French colony was that the women would be prohibited from serving in the military or bearing arms. Following their disbanding, some of the few amazons that remained married, others refused to marry believing they were superior to men. With the final colonization of the French came the end to the female warriors of Dahomey and much of the progressive role of woman in the Dahomean society, and so ended the true story of these larger than life women.

Unfortunately much is still unknown about these mythical women. Foreigners who visited the Kingdom were kept on a friendly house arrest, unable to see much of the Dahomean society and no interviews with Amazon women were conducted until 1920. While there are many theories as to why women were given such a prominent role in the military, none of these theories has been argued without fault. Thus, the mysticism around these women, who they were and why they so uniquely exist in our history, will remain.

*The primary source of information for this piece came from Warrior Women: The Amazons of Dahomey and the Nature of War, by Robert B. Edgerton. 

Double Jeopardy

During pregnancy, HIV-positive women experience in increase in both the risk of malaria contraction and transmission of HIV to the child

By Victoria Daughtrey

There are 34 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, 2.5 million new infections within the past year, 219 million cases of malaria, .7 million deaths linked to AIDS and 1.7 million deaths due to malaria.

As two of the most deadly diseases that are also most densely prevalent throughout the same heavily populated continent, one would think the connection between the two would be obvious. Yet, their overlap is strikingly subtle as research on this relationship is relatively new and limited. Unsurprisingly, patients infected with HIV type 1 virus, one of the most common strands in sub-Saharan Africa, who contract malaria are more likely to react more fiercely to the disease, quickly progressing to deadly clinical cases, severe malaria or “Palu grave,” and death by malaria. At the same time, the presence of the malaria parasite causes a patients’ HIV/AIDS viral load to spike, further deteriorating the immune system.

Arguably, HIV/AIDS malaria patients can increase malaria transmission within a community as they develop symptoms more quickly and severely, but this demographic is just as likely as the general population to be bitten by an Anopheles mosquito (the malaria vector) and therefore contract malaria, unlike many other common West African illnesses such as Tuberculosis and diarrhea. Other fears of a correlation between the diseases stem from a common method of malaria treatment that involves blood transfusions, which increases the likelihood of HIV transmission.

The real mystery of the two killers’ correlation however, lies with one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most vulnerable populations: pregnant mothers.

PST 24 volunteers Nora Phillips, left, and Kate Jefferies help students complete an informational AIDS mural last December.

PST 24 volunteers Nora Phillips, left, and Kate Jefferies help students complete an informational AIDS mural last December.

As a population that is already more at-risk to contract malaria, as pregnant women emit a hormone that attracts the Anopheles mosquito, HIV-infected pregnant women who contract malaria are the greatest concern for public health.

An increase in viral load caused by malaria theoretically amplifies the chances of HIV transmission from mother to child during birth, although there have been conflicting studies in the area. The combination of the two diseases also increases the probability of low birth weight, miscarriages, anemia in mother and child and stillbirths.

These mothers more likely to have a case of placental malaria, which is a heavy concentration of the parasite found in the placenta postbirth. Cases of passing parasite from mother to child have not been sufficiently scientificallyrecorded, however, and it is doubtful the disease can be transmitted this way, unlike HIVvirus transmission, which must be prevented by prescription drugs. The presence of placental malaria is presumed to occur at birth as the final wave of the mother’s antibodies are given to the baby during the birthing process.

“There’s a surge as all the mother’s antibodies travel to the baby,” said Matt McLaughlin, Stomping Out Malaria Boot Camp founder, “Think of it as a mother’s final gift to her child. This may account for the heavy presence of the malaria parasite found in the placenta.”

This large and highly susceptible demographic is important to protect against malaria. In addition to using insecticide treated bed nets, the World Health Organization encourages pregnant women to take Sulfadoxine Pyrimethamine or SP as a prophylaxis. HIV infected women however, cannottake this drug as it interferes with antiretroviral drugs and are instead prescribed Cotorimayazade—a difficult drug as it must be taken daily as opposed to SP which can be taken in three single doses.

The general health consequences for the correlation between HIV/AIDS and malaria run much deeper in West African communities as the impact of the two disease are so deadly and unforgiving, especially among young mothers.

Peter McElory, President’s Malaria Initiative Regional Coordinator with the Center of Disease Control and former Peace Corps volunteer advises current volunteers to promote safe sleeping, pointing out the correlation between bed net use and condom use.

“Bed nets reduce mortality and the likelihood of infection by 50%,” said McElory, “not to mention condom use prevents HIV/AIDS transmission.”

So cover up Benin, and sleep safely.