Love makes a huge difference

It is for the same reason that people living with HIV/AIDS need love and support from family and other members of the community. Support and care are cornerstones of any HIV/AIDS strategy. From the time an individual decides to take an HIV test, counselling should be provided to ensure that the individual does not die of stress if the test happens to be positive. Confidentiality must also be assured. It is important to show love and support to our friends that have openly proclaimed to be HIV-positive.

People with HIV/AIDS can live healthy lives if proper care and support is provided. Your immune system can be strengthened by medical treatment, food, rest and exercise. You can cope much better if you are happy and feel productive. Emotional support and a positive mental attitude will help you to avoid depression.

The stigma surrounding AIDS makes it a more difficult disease to live with for people with HIV/AIDS and for their families. Loneliness, anxiety and depression make people sicker and more vulnerable to opportunistic infections, especially because their immune systems are already weak. Families cannot also support and care for someone who is ill if they themselves are depressed and scared. This is where strong-willed people should come in and offer support: when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Many projects concentrate on basic first aid for people who are already ill. It is important to also focus on emotional support for people who have HIV or who are not yet bedridden. It is often best for people to organise themselves into activist groups or support groups where they can share their experiences and feelings with other people in similar situations.

Family members who are looking after people who are ill also need support and where possible support groups should be set up for children who are coping with death and sick parents.

Support groups usually do the following types of things: organise meetings where people with HIV/AIDS can get together and discuss their feelings, common problems and ways of coping; teach people how to look after themselves and discuss symptoms, illnesses and treatment; organise food and poverty relief to help people survive; organise social events where people can be open about their status and relax with each other; organise talks and presentations from experts; and set up an organisation that works for people with HIV/AIDS and get people to join.

For families, support groups can be used to: teach people about HIV/AIDS and how to care for someone when they get ill; talk about feelings and give families emotional support to help them cope; help families to get access to government grants and relief; and put them in touch with services and projects that can help– like home-based care.

How do you set up a support group? There are many ways to form support groups. In your local area, you can use personal contacts and word of mouth to get people to join a support group. Ask counselling and testing services, nurses, social workers, churches and schools to refer people to your group. Support groups can meet at clinics, with social workers or at churches and other religious institutions. Students can also set up a group on campus.

Support groups can be informal– you just need a group of people who share their problems and discuss ways of helping themselves and each other. It is good to have a small committee that coordinates the programmes and makes sure that new people are made to feel welcome. The committee should also link with other projects and services in the areas and make sure that they all know where and when the support group meets. It is important to decide early on if your support group is going to be public or secret.

If you want to advertise, it may be best to call the meeting “HIV/AIDS Action meeting” or “HIV/AIDS information meeting”. If you make it clear it is only for HIV positive people, many may stay away. If you do not want to advertise, it is easier to keep the support group secret. You can meet quietly at someone’s house. You can also disguise the meeting as a prayer meeting or a cultural group or something else. You have to find a way that works best in your area.

Ethically, people living with HIV have the right to love and be loved, just like anybody else, as long as the infection is not spread maliciously. There are cases where persons living with the virus have married, and even desired to have children. With current medication, it is possible for an HIV-positive mother to bear an HIV-negative child. HIV-positive individuals will find more meaning in their lives if they are shown love and compassion, and if they are allowed to live normal lives without stigma. Remember, a problem shared is a problem solved.

People with HIV/AIDS can look after themselves while they are able to.

They should be encouraged to keep themselves as healthy as possible and should be targeted for specific programs such as: wellness programs to keep as healthy as possible and to strengthen immune systems; nutrition programs; training in basic hygiene and treatment for common infections like skin infections; and psychological and emotional support.

Love makes the world go round. Love is all we need. Give someone a hug!

l KC is a lecturer at the University of Namibia. kchinsembu@unam.na

October 2006
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