The Evolution of Sleepovers and the HIV virus
Long time ago, almost every estate in Nairobi had a decent school that children could go to. It meant that most kids could walk to and from school and therefore much of their day was devoted to either playing in school or playing at home. Play was organised communally. Today, we have a collapse of the quality school estate system. That means that a standard expense item for parents is ‘school transport’. While parents may feel the pain in their pocket, for their children it is much worse. Parents paying so much means that much more pressure on the children to succeed. School then is not the fun and games of yesteryears but something closer to toil. Hard work is emphasized lest parents’ money is ‘wasted’. To compound matters the children now spend hours on buses commuting – a considerable distance, to and from school. Children compete with their parents who, is more tired at the end of the day. The end result is that when children want to play the only time available seems to be late at night, hence the sleepover.
Originally a sleepover was a pajama or slumber party held by girls in their late teens. The idea is to celebrate a special event like a birthday. The hostess will invite her friends over to her house where her mother will have prepared for the visitors with snacks and various mattresses and blankets. Contrary to the name, little actual sleep occurs. The girls spend their time talking, eating, watching movies and playing until they fall asleep briefly, usually around dawn. They then return home tired to sleep briefly before the cycle of school starts again.
Long time ago, HIV/AIDS was a death sentence. A person diagnosed with the disease often succumbed rapidly within months. Today the condition is more of a chronic disease. Even though there is no cure, we now know enough to slow down the effects of the virus. You might imagine that given the way the disease was almost 25 years ago and today that the virus has changed. Perhaps become less deadly. It has not. The virus remains as deadly as ever.
The HIV/AIDS virus belongs to a special class of viruses called retro-virus. Retro-virus’ genes are made up of RNA (Ribonucleic Acid). Almost all other organisms, humans included, have DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) genes. When a human cell needs to replicate -for example your skin cells are continually replenished -the first step is for the genes to be replicated. DNA looks like a zip that is twisted and folded over itself. To replicate the two sides have to be separated from each other then identical copies of the strand are made so that at the end you end up with two zips, that is two DNA strands each consisting of a double helix. The problem though is that at no time do you want to have two sets of genes in one cell.
So what actually happens is that as the helix strand unravels a bit at a time, a template is made, which is transported outside the cell nucleus by RNA. RNA is like one strand of a zip and behaves like a negative template for the DNA much like the way a key and a lock fit into each other. So you can imagine that the HIV/AIDS virus made up of RNA only is like a key, or one-sided zip. By itself, unable to divide and grow. However if it finds itself inside a human cell , it takes over the cell dividing process making copies of the virus. The virus is tiny, around 100-150 billionths of a metre in diameter. Unleashed, billions of virus particles are produced within a very short time. This still happens every time someone is infected. Without intervention it will cause a horrible and premature death. What, today is stopping this happening?
The virus hates people who know. If you know your status, you are well on your way to fighting the virus. Getting infected is dose dependent. The smaller the dose of virus you come into contact with, using condoms, the lesser the chances that a dose of virus can take over your body. Good nutrition, avoiding smoking strengthens the immune system. For those who need , life long anti-retroviral therapy is effective in reducing the viral load to undetectable levels.
You might imagine that there is some connection between sleepovers and HIV/AIDS. I do not know. But the way sleepovers have evolved is a bit like the way HIV/AIDS has evolved- something we know is there and we now tolerate without looking at the root cause. Something happened over time to education in Nairobi, so that today we have more sleepovers than a generation ago. It is not a single thing, but a confluence of factors. Unless we dig deeper all we see is the result. It is the same with HIV/AIDS, some success, but we have to remember that the virus is still the same virus, still lethal.