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TO UNDERSTAND how statistics play out in the bedroom, get your hair done at Nuplan Hair Salon No. 2, a six-dryer beauty shop in Harare that offers plaiting, braided extensions, chemical straightening, slow waxing, sets, spirals, dreadlocks, highlights, manicures and pedicures.

Listen to stylists Eva Mzunguzik, Paula Marera and Lorraine Marera talk about their ex-husbands while smoke drifts from a hot curling iron wound with coppery locks. They were able to leave their marriages because they can support themselves and their children by dressing hair. Most women in Africa do not have that option.

Eva: "Men are not satisfied with one woman. They say it's like eating the same sadza, sadza, sadza every day. They want variety in their diet. My husband used to come in the bedroom with his girlfriend and say, I paid 8,000 Zim for her for the night. You use the floor. This African culture, it's destroying our women."

Paula: "I knew my husband was sleeping around, just knew. It's just like I know if my baby is not well. You know the telltale signs. If you're married, you wash his pants. There were movie tickets in his pocket — and his cellphone! I'm an intelligent person and this same certain number would appear."

Eva: "You can smell it. Different perfume than what you've got."

Paula: "I told my husband we must use protection. He said, I won't use condoms for the woman I paid lobola for. You are property."

Eva: "Property like a chair!"

Lorraine: "If they say jump, you say, How high? Even if he comes home at 3 a.m., I have to be his waitress to give him sadza."

Eva: "This client of mine, she told her husband to use a condom and he said, OK, I'll wear a condom. But he really didn't want to so he pricked the condom package with a needle. Lots of little holes. You see? This is how the virus spreads."

Last year, 3.4 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were newly infected with HIV.

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FIFTEEN THOUSAND clinicians, re-searchers and advocates gathered in Barcelona in July for the 14th International AIDS conference. Scientists announced a new drug, enfuvirtide, or T-20, that could help restore the health of some HIV patients whose illness defies existing medicines. Researchers also reported finding an obscure gene in HIV that allows the virus to reproduce and infect human cells.

Even as public health efforts push condom use, private voices push back. Roadside graffiti reflects a deep distrust of condoms and other Western intervention in Zimbabwe. Some believe AIDS is a ploy by the West to wipe out much of Africa. Life expectancy here has dropped in half — from 70 to 38 years — because of the AIDS epidemic.
In Zimbabwe, the hopeful news seemed impossibly remote, the debate over treatment vs. prevention almost silly. A disease that might kill in 10 years can't compete with hunger today.

Here, in the open-air market stalls near Ruth's house, women queue for days in the sun, babies swaddled to their backs, to buy scarce commodities like salt and cornmeal. At night, the flimsy stalls shiver as prostitutes ply their trade behind cracked plastic tarps. Graffiti decorates a crumbling brick wall: CONDOMS WILL NEVER PROTECT YOU.

"You'll be very surprised how this disease becomes a political issue," says Anna Mandizha, a young woman who leads an AIDS prevention and support group called Youth Alive Zimbabwe. "Some think it's the West's ploy to wipe out Africa."

They resent Western access to wonder drugs Africans can't afford. They distrust donated condoms (once a huge shipment was found defective and recalled). They suspect the AIDS virus was unleashed on Africa through other vaccines run amok.

At her youth groups, Anna advocates "second virginity" as the only sure way to protect against sexually transmitted death. But it is a solution that only works for those who have enough power to say no to their partners.

"At the end of the day, people are having sex for all the wrong reasons," she says. "Do I think it can be changed? Yes I do. By making men realize that women are more than satisfaction objects. By changing people's misconception that sex represents love. Because it doesn't."

Every day, 14,000 people worldwide become infected with HIV. That's 5.1 million people a year. More than 40 million by 2010.
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