Written by Merisha Lalla
Ahead of World Aids Day on December 1, HIV/AIDS and its impact on families, communities, country and the world is certainly not a new topic. But as the HIV / AIDS debate rages on, a more conscious effort is required – with the aim of changing mindsets and perceptions. A person may not be Infected but affected.
Human beings by nature are usually optimistic, ambitious and aspirant, but could also possess judgmental, stereotypical and condemnatory tendencies. The latter are closely aligned with the very feelings toward people with HIV/AIDS or simply just the issue of HIV/AIDS. When one questions where these feelings stem from, the answers lie in very unsuspecting places, such as lack of knowledge, ignorance and fear – all of which are curable symptoms. Myths that do the rounds no doubt negate all the correct information that is being channelled. Myths like HIV can be contracted from toilet seats, sharing cutlery and household paraphernalia need to be squashed immediately. But therein lies a problem – how many people know enough about HIV and AIDS to correct such statements?
This piece is not for those living with HIV/AIDS, but for those who are HIV negative.
It is them that harbour misguided feelings of prejudice and discrimination. It is as a result of ignorance that many people are apprehensive about coming out with their status early enough – for fear of being judged and possibly losing their jobs as a result.
However, with early detection, the correct information, assistance and support system, persons infected with HIV / AIDS are able to live a productive and positive life. There may be no cure for AIDS, but there exists a treatment plan which includes healthy eating, exercise and strict adherence to medication and ARV’s. To this list, one should add having a positive mindset and surrounding oneself with positive energy.
Many believe that HIV/AIDS does not affect them or their families. This could be true – there are many people who do not engage in unprotected sex and have one sex partner. BUT, elements such as rape, transactional sex and intergenerational sex exist, and thus will affect someone in a close family or social circle.
Is there enough information to assist someone in such a position? There is a drug called Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), that provided one is HIV negative, if taken within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV (eg. being raped or stabbed), for 28 days, will ensure that one remains HIV negative.
Engagement in debates and literature about HIV and AIDS together with communication, information and education is key. It is imperative that voluntary testing is encouraged and every citizen knows their status. If one is HIV positive, the necessary counselling and treatment can follow to enable a normal life. And if one is HIV negative, then the relevant decisions must be made to stay negative.
Communities are guilty of shying away from active discussion and action on AIDS-related issues. Families need to talk more about these issues. Workplaces need to create spaces for dialogue. Religious and cultural leaders and practitioners need to start including AIDS education in their agendas and formulate programmes to inform their congregations. Places of worship are ideal points for the dissemination of HIV and AIDS information. Pastors, Priests and Moulanas are respected in their communities and should include these topics in their discourses. Schools need to be more conscious of their efforts and make health-education campaigns compulsory on the School calendar.
And so the moral of the story is to become broad minded, non-judgmental and to inform oneself about HIV and AIDS. Be proactive and get involved in campaigns or join an organisation. More importantly – mindsets and perceptions need to be changed, conscientisation needs to happen, and a difference needs to be made for the generations that follow.