World AIDS day 2013: ‘Stigma’ of having HID/AIDS in Africa
Today is 1st December 2013 and the world is marking the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day, an event that helps human race reflect on the progress it has made in tackling the HIV epidemic around the globe. As World Aids Day is marked, official statistics shows that around 35 million people across the globe are living with HIV and people of goodwill should pause for those touched by the disease. Last year on World AIDS day, I shared on this blog how Facebook love landed a friend in grave and how she was stigmatised.Last evening, I spent a couple of hours with a HIV researcher in Africa although he is originally from Adelaide and learned plenty of stuff about that I had no clue about. One of them was how Intervention for sexual transmission is being included as one of the major activities in the battle against HIV in sub Saharan Africa where promiscuity and cultural beliefs that include but are not limited to prohibited use of condoms has led to rising cases of the disease. In addition to intervention, researchers are putting measures to education to help instill behavioral changes among society.
Although there had been significant achievements in combating the disease in sub Saharan Africa those gains are being reversed as a result of complacency. Most countries are however observing a decline in annual reported cases but the alarming trend is the increase in sexually transmitted infection among the young people with almost all countries reporting rising cases among women and men who have sex with men. The researcher shared with shocking statistics of how HIV and AIDS patients suffers discrimination from those who are not infected runs high in Africa, a continent with the fastest-growing HIV infection rates in the world. In one of his stories, he told me that A 25-year-old freshly graduated woman living with HIV, told him how more than 20 male students engaged in unprotected sex with her in a span of three years just because she was cute. Another case was how an engineer aged 32 living in Conakry Guinea expressed his disappointment of how one of how a privately owned hospital forced him to undergo blood test (which is a global norm) before he donated blood and after his results turned positive that was when he got to know of his status and since then people discriminate him openly.
According to the researcher, there is a need for Africa countries to put in place measure to curb the spread of the disease if continent wants to stem a further rise in HIV cases caused by sexual transmission, an infectious disease. When it comes to heterosexual transmission, African governments and organizations working in the HIV research and funding need to provide comprehensive sex education. For infections to be contained addressing the problem has to start at institutions of learning with education that is mindful of age and is fact based. In one of his research conducted earlier this year, the key affected minority populations such as lesbians and homosexuals countries have to be more innovative such as using new media tools to reach out to them and not discriminating them. Tackling prostitutions in Africa is much easier compared with tackling gay men and sex workers. His advice is the need to be focused on groups that are at risks and urgent need to separate cultural beliefs from health issues. I was shaken when he showed me a video of a HIV female who got infected from her promiscuous husband because their cultural beliefs bans the use of condoms and traditionally, when a husband expressed sexual desires there cannot be argued or delayed and in her case the risks of not being together for two years.
Her adherence and respect for culture made her pay the price. The woman makes it clear in the video that despite man knowing he was HIV positive the man forced the uninfected wife to have sex. In western world, I can assure that would have landed the reckless man to life imprisonment. I was deeply shocked when another HIV patients tell a story of how health officials stigmatize them. However, such cases are not common and do not reflect Governments policies in Africa. An individual with HIV/AIDS can even become a president as long as there is self-care. Rejecting or discriminating HIV patient is never acceptable and should not be tolerated. I learned from wealth of knowledge as a researcher with more than 15 years in Africa that Governments failure to communicate effectively with those affected and theft of drugs by rogue government officials has made it difficult for those seeking treatment fail to access better treatment. Me think that it is human right to provide access to health care of people living with HIV and failure to do so will only increase the risks of spreading infections. In a continent of 1 billion people and accounting for more 70% of HIV infections in the world and with more than 60% of people living with HIV being in Africa, there is an urgent for countries in the region to work fast to curb the disease otherwise a sick continent cannot develop and I would want to remind those policy makers that Health is Wealth.